Remember the viral picture of a doctor pleading with his hands folded to continue the vaccination programme in Tirur? The picture that was published in Mathrubhumi earlier this week shows Dr Prashanth pleading with Nishad Pookuyil, a parent to let them continue the vaccination drive. And while anti-vaccination campaigns are not new to Malappuram, what is the truth behind the picture?
The story behind the picture
Speaking to TNM, Dr Prasanth, who works at the District Hospital in Malappuram said a medical team had gone to Tirur’s GM UP School for Measles-Rubella vaccination program on October 3.
“As we were vaccinating the children, a couple of parents, including Nishad Pookuyil, came forward citing displeasure in vaccinating the children in school. They asked us and the school management to stop the vaccination as they were worried if the children will show signs of medical reaction later,” he recalled.
Along with the school management, Dr Prashanth explained to the worried parents that the vaccination is safe and would not harm their children. He pointed out, “MR vaccination is crucial to avoid deadly diseases among the children in a later stage. There is nothing to worry if a child shows symptoms of fever post vaccination, this is perfectly normal for any vaccination.” After convincing them, the medical team went onto vaccinate 520 children, he said.
But parents like Nishad Pookuyil had a different version to tell. A Facebook post put by Shaheen MC, quoted Nishad’s version of events stating that only a few parents were aware of the vaccination drive. They say they were not stopping the drive, but wanted the medical team to seek prior permission
“Tirur G.M. U.P School had closed a bit early on the day of Ayudha Pooja and a PTA meeting was conducted thereafter. Only a handful of the parents who attended this particular PTA meeting were informed of the vaccination. When the school re-opened after the holidays the school management went ahead with the vaccination programme as decided,” reads the post.
Shaheen then points out that despite being blamed for being an anti-vaccination activist, Nishad Pookuyil had only intervened with the medical team to ensure they obtained permission from the parents.
The Facebook post states, “Nishad Pookuyil came to the school along with other parents not to stop the vaccination but to ask the medical team to seek prior permission from the parents before they vaccinate the children. This as the children might have a health issue that the medical team is unaware of or is already under other medication. Nishad is not against any vaccination and in fact strongly believes that people should co-operate with the state in its campaign for measles-rubella vaccination.”
It then says that the picture was spun in a different context, making Nishad look like the aggressor in the situation. “While Nishad was making the arrangements to call all the parents, Dr Prasanth had come asking Nishad to speak softly as other children who were to be vaccinated were withdrawing out of fear. This moment was captured by Mathrubhumi and put in a different context,” explained Shaheen.
Malappuram and immunisation
Whether Nishad was against the vaccination or was simply insisting for clarity has been debated a lot on social media. But the stark reality is that Malappuram does have a problem when it comes to vaccination drives.
The district has a population of 41 lakhs according to the 2011 census, with 70% of it being Muslims and 27.60% Hindus.
Malappuram has over the years witnessed a rise in anti-vaccination campaigns, with fingers having been pointed at religious organisations for spreading false information. According to the Kerala health ministry, 90% of children aged between one and 16 have been immunised in the state.
Malappuram however has lesser numbers and these skewed figures came to light when it witnessed a rise in deaths due to diphtheria.
The Malappuram district collector Amit Meena on Saturday announced that strict actions will be taken against those who campaign against MR vaccination. He also said that some of the teachers were suspected to be campaigning against the vaccination and if found true, they will be reported to Education Deputy Director. He also asked the public to alert the Health Department control room or the District Authorities if any such anti-vaccination campaign is spotted.