Representational Image. Polio/Reuters

The Union Health Ministry has issued a statement in response to a viral social media message that was seen as urging people to not vaccinate their children because the vaccine had been tainted.

The move comes just days after reports of contaminated polio vaccines being given to children in several states across India.

While that in itself might have scared some parents, what added fuel to the fire was a viral social media post said: "Do not give oral polio dose to the baby till next update."

The viral message

While a single post on social media is not a problem, what seems to have prompted the Health Ministry to release an official statement is the fact that there were several such posts, and all with the same message – copied word for word.

The message says: "News on TV says that tomorrow do not give polio dose for kids up to 5 years as some virus has been found in them, and the owner of the company who manufactures it has been arrested by the police. Inform everyone in family as well as those who have babies. Do not give oral polio dose to the baby till next update. [sic]"

More often than not, these messages – both on Twitter and Facebook – seem to be accompanied by photos of newspaper clippings that apparently support their claim.

Here is an example:

Viral social media message on polio
In picture: A viral social media message urges parents not to get their children vaccinated because the vaccine has been contaminated.Screenshot

The government's response

In response to this viral post, the Health Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday, October 4: "Polio vaccines are absolutely safe and have saved millions of children from disabling effects of polio. All parents must get their children vaccinated against polio to provide protection against polio. The Government of India in consultation with WHO has taken all measures to ensure that all vaccines used under the programme are totally safe and effective."

It did acknowledge that there was some problem with a manufacturer of polio vaccines, but was quick to explain that appropriate action had been taken to ensure that nobody was affected.

It said: "Recently there are rumours being spread stating not to give polio drops to children upto 5 years as some virus has been found in them. This rumour was spread in response to some reports in sections of media that bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine supplied by a particular company were found 'not of standard quality'."

However, it was quick to add in the statement: "Use of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine manufactured by this particular manufacturer has been stopped in the programme. All the stocks of the said manufacturer have been withdrawn."

It also said: "There are other bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine manufacturers who have also been providing the polio vaccine. The polio vaccines supplied by these other manufacturers have been tested and conform to all the recommended standards. In order to ensure that children receive safe and effective vaccines, the vaccines from these manufacturers are being used under the programme."

Bottom line: The government says polio vaccines are safe, and people should continue to get their children vaccinated without fear.