Diphtheria vaccination sparks new debate in Kerala
Diphtheria vaccination sparks new debate in KeralaEl Alvi/Flickr

Even as Kerala continues to battle diphtheria, the once-eradicated disease, the biggest hindrance for the state health department is said to be the ongoing propaganda by anti-vaccination lobby. The state has been engulfed by diphtheria fear after more than 10 cases have come to light since June. At least two children have been reported to have died of the disease in the last few weeks.  

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has asked people to come together to fight the campaign that has been launched by a section of society against vaccination drives. It was being reported that an anti-vaccination lobby is currently active in districts like Malappuram and Kasaragod.

"The ultimate aim of the state government is to achieve 100 percent coverage in the immunisation drive and we are taking all the necessary steps to attain this," said the CM in a Facebook post. He also warns of strict action against the anti-vaccination campaigners, adding that "the campaign against the vaccination in the districts like Malappuram, Kasaragod, Wayanad, Palakkad and Kozhikode is disrupting the public health system. The spread of diseases, which could have been prevented by vaccination, is unfortunate."

The state health department is currently taking stock of the situation to enforce the Total Immunization Kerala (TIK) project. It has also issued a diphtheria alert in some districts after suspected cases were reported at the Government Medical College Hospitals. The state reported two deaths due to diphtheria in Malappuram in June. The disease, caused by a type of bacteria called Corynebacterium diphtheria infects the nose and throat, causing sore throat and fever, and in acute cases even leading to death. The vaccination to protect against diphtheria is first administered in infancy and then through the booster dose in later years.

Muhammed Niyas, the doctor who witnessed the death of a 14-year-old boy due to the disease at the Medical College Hospital in Kozhikode, wrote on Facebook: "I cursed all the vaccine hate mongers in Kerala a 1000 times in my mind as I was looking at him, my helplessness hid behind my face mask I thought of blaming the parents for not vaccinating their child, but soon realised that it was not their fault. We have failed as a society, to educate people about vaccines and expose the anti vaccine mafia in our state [sic]."

According to a district-level health survey, 17.5 percent of children aged between 12 to 23 months are not getting all the prescribed immunisation. Malappuram and Kasaragod are also featured in the list of 48 districts in the country, which are not getting the benefits of universal immunisation programmes of the Central Government. A survey conducted in October 2015 found that In Malappuram district alone; nearly 2.3 lakh children in the age group of 0-6 years were unimmunised or partially immunised.

Anil Jose, one of the people leading an anti-vaccination campaign in the state, told International Business Times India that they are taking a stand against immunisation because it is not proven scientifically.

Now a document from the WHO admitting with intensive vaccination, the paralysis cases increased 60 times. Now you have to ask all pro-vaccination teams to explain why it is? Do you have still doubts? It is from WHO. Now we all have to address the pseudo science and its supporters [sic]," Jose wrote about the polio vaccination drive on his social media page while explaining his stance. 

The health department is currently undertaking a survey to take account of the unvaccinated people to implement the TIK project and is expected to release a new list of inadequately vaccinated districts soon, reported Manorama online. Currently, there are 20 health blocks in six districts of the state in this list.