The low coverage of the Measles-Rubella vaccine in Ahmedabad city, which has reported the second lowest coverage in Gujarat at 37 per cent against the state average of 64 per cent, has been attributed to the low coverage in Muslim dominated areas of the city.
According to Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) figures, certain areas with high Muslim population reported as low as seven per cent vaccine coverage, since the drive began on July 16.
For the campaign, set to conclude by August end, out of a target population of 1.6 crore in the state, Ahmedabad has a target of 14.8 lakh. An estimated number of 2,414 schools have been identified for the vaccination drive.
Among the reasons cited for the low percentage, are the rumours about the side-effects of the vaccine, which the authorities tried to dispel to have the community accept the vaccine as safe, officials said. One such rumour was that the vaccine led to “impotency”.
AMC medical officer Dr Bhavin Solanki told The Indian Express, “This (low coverage among Muslims) is among one of the reasons for a low percentage of MR vaccination in the AMC area as there are cases where there is not an encouraging response in affluent areas either.”
The percentage has remained low even after authorities roped in community leaders, both political and religious, schools, teachers, doctors and ASHA workers to convince the community of the benefits of the vaccine.
Incidentally, out of the six zones of Ahmedabad city, the Central zone which has the highest Muslim population has also recorded the lowest MR vaccine coverage at 27 per cent.
The Central zone is divided into 10 areas on the basis of Urban Health Centres (UHC). Out of these, seven are Muslim dominated which have also marked the lowest target achievement as compared to the remaining three which are not Muslim majority areas.
For instance, Raikhad, a Muslim dominated area, in the Central zone recorded nine per cent coverage with only 1,101 children out of a target population of 12,051 have been vaccinated since the campaign was launched.
On the contrary, Khadia in the same zone with a predominant Hindu population, has achieved a 71 per cent coverage, becoming one of the wards with highest coverage in Ahmedabad.
The civic authorities urged community leaders at various meetings to apprise parents of the benefits of the vaccine and clear their doubts regarding rumors.
Muslim leaders have, however, maintained that the government did little to campaign against the rumours. They have insisted that with the deaths of six children following the administration of the vaccine and viral messages on social media that the vaccine causes impotency, the government should advertise it in a way that dispels the rumors. They have also suggested that the government take responsibility for any untoward incidents, if any, following vaccination.
So far, at least six deaths have been reported after the vaccine was administered to children. However, state health department has ruled out any connection between the deaths and the vaccine.
“Numerous meetings have been conducted and we have been making efforts to ask people to not believe in such fake messages. We have been trying to make them understand the benefits of this vaccination. We are roping in Maulanas and community leaders. But the state government should also come out with messages owning up the responsibility,” said Danilimda corporator Shahzad Pathan.
Jamalpur Congress MLA Imran Khedawala said, “We have been asking people during Friday prayers to get their children vaccinated and will also invite the family doctors to talk about the vaccination. But the same efforts have not been reflected from the government.”
AMC health commissioner Jayanti Ravi said, “A lot of appeals have been made by Muslim leaders and doctors associations. These efforts have resulted in a nearly 65 per cent coverage in the state. Certainly, it is a collective responsibility and we are responsible for our children.”
Counting the several measures recently taken by AMC targetting Muslim population, the medical officer of health (MOH) Dr Bhavin Solanki said, “We have held meetings with corporators, school principals and Maulanas several times on the issue. Some of these meetings have also been chaired by the Mayor Bijal Patel.”
In order to get maximum coverage, the AMC on Friday decided that private schools will be allowed to get students vaccinated by private paediatricians instead of municipal health department.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines