Unsubstantiated reports about alleged side effects of Measles-Rubella (MR) vaccine drive in schools got parents to bring the government programme down on its knees in Maharashtra.
Similarly, agitated parents moved court in Delhi against the state government’s order of compulsory MR and got the Delhi High Court to defer the implementation of the immunization campaign. In the Capital, the campaign has to still see the light of day. A similar petition was filed in Kerela but was later quashed by the court.
The government’s crusade to eliminate measles and rubella by 2020 through one of the world’s largest vaccination campaigns, which started in February 2017, has met with stiff resistance, particularly in big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, and has had a dominos effect in smaller cities.
Targeted at vaccinating more than 41 crore children in the age group of nine months to less than 15- over two years- the on-going campaign is facing a lot of backlashes mostly because of uncorroborated fears.
Under the MR campaign, all children in the target group are to be given a single shot of MR vaccination, irrespective of their previous vaccination status or measles/rubella disease status. A lot of parents who had already immunised their children with Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination were the first to protest. The government’s immunisation campaign to give an additional dose of MR vaccine did not seem right to them.
Successes so far
MR vaccination coverage ranges from a high 100% in Himachal, Arunachal, and Telangana, to at least 95% in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Andhra, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, 87.62% in Maharastra. The campaign is currently running in Bihar (37.58%) and Madhya Pradesh (51.04%) and is scheduled for July in Rajasthan and August in Sikkim.
The big question- Will dual MR vaccination harm my child?
The answer is NO. There is abundant scientific evidence to show that this additional MR dose will not just build the immunity of the child but will also shield the community by completely preventing the transmission of measles and rubella.
Although it appears aggressive, this ‘implied consent’ based drive, which has been carried out by several countries in the past, helped achieve measles elimination in the Western Hemisphere (2002), and the elimination of indigenous rubella in 2009.
Not only India, but 14 other countries have together planned the introduction of MR vaccine in 2017. It has proven to be a highly safe and effective vaccine.
Scientists across the globe are on the same page. They have time and again reiterated that the MR vaccine is safe. WHO statistics show that MR vaccine has saved more than 21 million lives since 2000.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) – vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease. It prevents 2-3 million deaths worldwide each year, and an additional 1.5 million lives would be saved if everyone got vaccinated.
The Big Fear
Measles is highly contagious and causes death and debilitating complications, including encephalitis (swelling of the brain membranes), severe diarrhoea, pneumonia, ear infections, and permanent vision loss.
A study released by the International Vaccine Access Center (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2018, shows that India’s vaccination coverage to prevent rotavirus infection, a leading cause of severe diarrhoea in young children, was the lowest among the 15 countries. It also pointed out that India lost over 2.6 lakh children under-five years from pneumonia and diarrhoea in 2016 alone.
Refusal or reluctance to vaccinate – in more ways than one backtracks all the progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccine denial, it has been seen has led to a 30 per cent upward spiral in cases globally since 2016, taking the cases to 6.7 million and deaths to 110,000 in 2017. The WHO states that the reasons for this rise in cases are complex, and not all of these cases are due to vaccine hesitancy. However, some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen its reappearance.
In India, the problem of vaccine hesitancy is so severe that almost 6 in 10 children not being vaccinated. Despite several small and large scale campaigns constantly advocating the need of mandatory immunization, India continues to be the home to the highest number of unvaccinated (56%) and incompletely vaccinated children (32%).
The need of the hour
It is absolutely imperative to have concerted and ongoing efforts from both the private players – practitioners, vaccine manufacturers, non–profits and government to together join hands to boost vaccinations and bring down preventable deaths.
It is also important to build up advocacy efforts and trust regarding vaccine safety and benefits in both urban and rural spaces where vaccine literacy is low. So, the local doctors, the Anganwadi workers- the actual foot soldiers have an important role to play in the dissemination of the right messages, particularly in the rural pockets where there is both illiteracy and trust deficit.
The noise around the need for vaccinations should only get louder from here if we want to capitalize on the gains from Mission Indradhanush, the central government campaign to boost routine immunizations and save lives.
For the first time in decades, India’s annual immunization growth has witnessed a growth from 1% to 4% between 2014 and 2018. Ministry of Health data shows that 3.4 crore children and 90 lakh pregnant women have been vaccinated under the central government initiative.
The good news being that for the first time in a decade, the country has recorded the lowest ever newborn and maternal death numbers, and need to keep the momentum high.
Written by – Jaya is an award-winning journalist, with rich experience in public affairs and storytelling. With over 13 years in both media and public relations role, where she has worked with development sector organizations and government in equal measure, she also has a demonstrated history of working as a health and social beat reporter in the newspapers industry. Jaya is a strong, dynamic and innovative media and communication professional with an MS in Journalism Research focused in Communication and Media Studies from E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Ohio University, Athens, USA and an MA degree in Comparative Literature, Jadavpur University, Kolkata