When Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan launched the statewide measles-rubella vaccination campaign last week, there were some unusual roadblocks. From the vaccine being aimed at reducing the fertility of certain religious groups to allegations of side effects including autism, the misinformation campaign seemed formidable.
If the first week’s figures are an indication, then the rumour mills have failed, with over 17 lakh vaccinations. Kerala’s month-long campaign is part of the countrywide effort to vaccinate 35 million kids from deadly diseases. Measles affects nearly 25 lakh children every year, killing nearly 49,000 while the congenital rubella syndrome causes irreversible deafness and blindness in nearly 40,000 children a year.
The misinformation campaign, mostly through social media platforms, could not be taken lightly, especially in the backdrop of the re-emergence of diphtheria cases. Diphtheria, which was eradicated from the state, claimed six lives in Malappuram alone last year and another 16 across the state this year. Apart from a phobia against vaccinations that still persists in some quarters, the state machinery had to battle canards such as the vaccine carrying a pork-based gelatin.
Given the target of 76 lakh children in the age group of nine months to 15 years to be vaccinated through the campaign by November 3, Kerala seems to be well on its way. The state is using all available platforms including anganwadis, health centres and schools to vaccinate the children. Only time will tell how other states have fared in battling opposition from parents, religious and community heads on the MR vaccination front.
While preliminary indications would’ve already started coming in from various states, as it has from Kerala, the nation will know by mid-November if the coming years will witness a significant drop in the number of children affected by these two dreaded illnesses. After Yogi Adityanath’s jibe, Kerala would be keen to see how Uttar Pradesh fares on this one.