The Measles- Rubella vaccination programme has picked up in the restive Jammu and Kashmir amid hate videos and propaganda against it. Around 1.80, lakh children have been vaccinated in the first two days.
“We started the MR campaign on September 24 and vaccinated about 1.80 lakh children in first two days,” Dr Qazi Haroon, State Immunization officer in the Family Welfare Department (FWD) told Outlook.
Some videos have surfaced on social networking sites opposing vaccination, saying it is a conspiracy to sterilise Muslim children. The videos on the WhatsApp against vaccination have deterred many parents, who have asked the schools to exempt their children from it. Some parents have conveyed to the schools that they have apprehensions about the vaccination. The videos that have surfaced on the social networking sites describe the vaccination as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) conspiracy to sterilise Muslim children.
Dr Haroon says stakes are very high for some as the Measles- Rubella vaccine in private costs around Rs. 600 and is being prescribed by the leading doctors in private. The government believes that free vaccination is seen as monetary loss by a certain section, who were involved in procurement, distribution, sales and commission. “Hence doctored videos are created to spread false information that this vaccine will make children sick and impotent,” says Dr Haroon. “It has created a fear psychosis in some sections but it will not deter us,” he says.
The government says the vaccine is being used for past 15-years in private sector as part of the Government of India’s commitment to eliminate Measles and control Rubella by 2020.As a part of South East Asia Regional Committee Resolution, the vaccine is already given in more than 20 states.
“It has been given in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Punjab, Himachal and around 10 crore children have been immunized so far. The two big Muslim countries, Bangladesh and Malaysia, have completed MR campaign last year. So there is no point saying it is given to Muslim children to make them impotent”, says Dr Haroon.
“In our state just in two days 1.80 lakh children opted for MR vaccination and are fine and healthy,” he adds.
“It is just like polio vaccination, there will be no cases of Measles as well as Rubella as there are no cases of polio after polio eradication programs like pulse polio was launched,” says Dr. Haroon.
However, he says, some elite schools in Kashmir created scepticism about the vaccination by asking consent from the parents of children before the vaccination, which was not necessary. “It is a mandatory immunization and doesn’t need consent. We held so many meetings with the principals of these schools but they didn’t agree and send consent forms to the parents creating confusions in the minds of people,” says Dr Haroon.
The family welfare department has now involved religious heads, community leaders, opinion makers in educating the masses about the benefits of the MR campaign. The department has also involved sports persons like eight-year-old kick boxing champion Tajamul Islam, cricketers like Irfan Pathan, Pervez Rasool and Manzoor Pandav, leading pediatricians like Dr. Kaiser Ahmad.
“We started the program after intense sensitization campaign for about two months. We involved education department as 80 per cent children to be covered under the programme are of school going age ( 3 to 15 years). We also involved private schools,” Dr. Haroon said. The government has also launched awareness campaign through social media.