The efforts to fight polio vaccination in some Muslim-majority countries has been a scandal, fueled by a mixture of wrong-headed beliefs by some Muslim clerics about the effect of vaccines and by fears that it is part of some kind of plot by the CIA and other western spy agencies. The latter charge gained credibility because of the shameful use by the US of a fake vaccination scheme to try and find Osama bin Laden but even then there is absolutely no excuse for harassing or murdering workers administering vaccines or preventing children from receiving one of the greatest medical breakthroughs that has eradicated a deadly disease from almost the entire world.
But what further shocked me was the news that in Kenya, Roman Catholic bishops are also fighting the polio vaccination program and calling for the boycott of a campaign that is due to begin on Saturday.
Ahead of the campaign’s launch, the bishops questioned the safety of the vaccines, saying the manufacturer failed to provide requested information and the government disregarded the bishops’ request for tests.
Their concerns heightened after a recent unrelated incident in which about 30 children who received an injection of an anti-malarial drug in a dispensary in western Kenya appeared to be paralyzed. The drug, believed to be quinine for advanced cases, was found to contain the pain drug paracetamol, according to the bishops. Paracetamol is also known as acetaminophen.
I don’t know what happened in that clinic with the anti-malarial drug but the polio vaccination campaign is being done under the auspices of the World Health Organization and UNICEF and I find it hard to believe that they would be using a dangerous form of a vaccine that has had a proven record for over half a century.
This is not the first time that the Kenyan Catholic bishops have come out against a vaccination program. Back in 2014 they criticized the government’s anti-tetanus vaccination campaign, so this may be part of a general skeptical stance towards vaccinations.
The bishops’ opposition may be the global extension of the exaggerated fears of vaccines that we see in some parts of the US. that The state of California, over the fierce objections of determined anti-vaxxers, passed legislation that now requires anyone attending public education systems to show proof of vaccination and greatly reducing the grounds for exemptions, eliminating such things as religious or philosophical reasons, so that parents who don’t vaccinate their children don’t put other children at risk.
The governor of California — which was ground zero for the Disneyland measles outbreak that infected 117 people — today signed legislation giving the state one of the toughest school vaccine laws in the country.
California children will no longer be able to skip the shots normally required to attend school because of their parents’ religious or personal objections. Unvaccinated children will still be able to attend school if there is a medical reason why they’re not able to be immunized, such as treatment for cancer.
While all 50 states require school children to be vaccinated, 48 currently allow exemptions for families with religious objections and 20 exempt children based on parents’ personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Twelve states this year considered legislation addressing vaccine exemptions. In May, Vermont became the first state to repeal its personal belief exemption, although the law still permits exemptions for religious reasons..
Of course, objectors are stating that this action by the California legislature is an attack on their freedom and actor Jim Carrey, friend of anti-vaccination crusader Jenny McCarthy, seems to have become unhinged over the new law and went on a major twitter rant, resurrecting long-debunked claims.
But I hope California’s move signals a nationwide move to tighten the rules for exemptions and eliminate all except those due to documented medical reasons. As California state senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician and cosponsor of the legislation, said “As the largest state in the country, we are sending a strong signal to the rest of the country that this can be done, that science and facts will prevail to make sound laws.”