A medical team on a measles-rubella vaccination drive at a school was allegedly attacked Thursday by a group of residents in Kerala’s Malappuram district, where repeated community resistance to vaccines has been noticed.
Police Friday arrested three youths and slapped non-bailable charges against them for attacking C K Shyalamabai, a 45-year-old nurse at a public health centre in Malappuram. A six-member medical team led by Dr Ali Muhammed had gone to a primary school at Athippatta in Malappuram on Thursday to give vaccines to children as part of an ongoing drive in the state.
After they administered doses to a few students, a group of locals barged into the classroom and stopped the vaccination. While the medical team was leaving, the group assaulted Shyalamabai, who was admitted to a hospital. The arrested trio — Mubasheer, 27, Safavan, 21, and Faisal Babu, 29 — reside near the school.
In Malappuram district, not a single child could be given the MR vaccine in 11 schools because of resistance from the local community. These schools, private-run English medium schools, account for 997 students, according to health department data.
Health Minister K K Shailaja said stern action would be taken against those disrupting the vaccination drive. “There is a concerted attempt to spoil the MR vaccination drive from certain quarters. Health workers’ morale cannot be destroyed by this kind of assault. By threatening health staff or unleashing false campaigns through social media, vaccination cannot be stopped,’’ the minister said.
As part of the two-month vaccination drive in Kerala, 76 lakh children, aged between 10 months and 15 years, have to be vaccinated. As of November 17, the health department has administered the vaccine to 59 lakh children. Around 12 lakh children of the 76 lakh belong to Malappuram, a Muslim-majority district with the highest number of unvaccinated children. So far, 7.5 lakh children in Malappuram have been vaccinated.
Health workers said a section among Muslims believes the vaccination is part of a US agenda to bring down the Muslim population. Earlier, Dr Jinesh P S, a prominent medical activist, told The Indian Express: “The anti-vaccine lobby has always been very strong in Malappuram. They hold meetings here and circulate fake messages on WhatsApp. They spread rumours that if you take the vaccine, you may not live long. But the truth is that life expectancy in Kerala has risen above 70 because of vaccination.”
Malappuram district medical officer Dr K Sakeena said: “We cannot pinpoint any particular organisation working against the vaccination. When we step up the enlightenment drive, the anti-vaccination campaigners intensify their propaganda.’’
She said the district has so far achieved 61.54 per cent of the target. “With 12 lakh children, Malappuram has the highest number of children to be vaccinated among Kerala districts…. However, among the targeted group below one year, we have achieved 92 per cent coverage,’’ she said. The resistance against vaccination in Malappuram came to the fore two years ago following the death of some children after the re-emergence of diphtheria in the district.
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