“Rumours might have dented vaccination”

Tamil Nadu Bureau

CHENNAI: The rumour-mongering of Sunday might have caused more damage to the polio vaccination programme of the State than can be currently estimated, public health officials have said.

While scotching rumours of polio vaccine-related deaths in the State on Sunday through appeals made on mass media, officials found they could not undo the damage caused by “a malicious campaign to discredit the vaccine programme,” S. Elango, Director of Public Health, said. Parents who had not yet vaccinated their children stayed away, and those who did rushed their children to hospitals, seeking compulsory admission, fearing they might be at risk.

In January this year, 67,16,000 children aged below 5 were administered the oral polio vaccine (OPV). On Sunday, only 65, 50,000 children were vaccinated. “The difference may be marginal. But about 1.5 lakh children who were left out may get polio. We urge them to ensure that children get the vaccine at least during the second round on February 2,” Dr. Elango said. There were other causes for the death of the four children on Sunday. While one was a child with hydrocephaly, two were premature and one died of milk aspiration.

Health Minister M.R.K. Panneerselvam said investigation revealed that the rumours were spread by AIADMK cadre, with the intention of thwarting the well-run programme. He said it was a pity that the opposition party was trying to politicise vaccination. Usually the mop-up round is held the day after immunisation, and volunteers go door-to-door to cover those who have not been vaccinated. This year too, officially the door-to-door campaign was on, and was “very successful” in some areas. But the staff said they hesitated to go to the field because the community was hostile to them.

Meanwhile, the six persons arrested on Sunday for spreading rumours have been charged under Section 353 (preventing a government servant from discharging duty), 505 (disseminating information with malicious intent) and 506 (ii) (Criminal Intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 3 of the Tamil Nadu Public Properties Damages Prevention Act.

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