Students in several government-run schools in interior areas of Barpeta, Nalbari and Kamrup districts of lower Assam left school or were taken away by their parents on Monday after rumours about a vaccine that could lead to infertility spread on social media.
The state health department is carrying out a vaccination drive against Japanese Encephalitis (JE) from April 30 to May 20 in Nalbari, Morigaon, Bongaigaon and Cachar districts among residents between the age of 15 and 65 years.
Though there is no specific vaccination programme being carried out in schools, parents and students became apprehensive following a rumour that the vaccine will make both males and females infertile.
The panic is being noticed in schools in minority-dominated areas in the interiors or ‘Chars’ (sandbars created by rivers).
“We received a complaint from a school in Hajo that parents are taking away their children for fear of being vaccinated. It is misinformation being spread and we have issued clarifications,” Vinod Seshan, deputy commissioner of Kamrup, told the Hindustan Times.
Assam recorded 3,391 positive JE cases and 779 deaths between 2010 and 2016 — the highest among states in the northeast. Until March this year, there have been 65 cases of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) including one death and 6 JE cases also including one death.
Vaccinations drives are carried out annually among the 15-65 age group in vulnerable districts.
“No vaccination drive is being carried out in schools in Barpeta. Routine JE vaccination is going on in health centres. But still, schools in Kalgasia, Mandiya and Chenga saw students missing,” said Dr Subrata Sarma, joint director (health services) in Barpeta.
While the drive was carried out in other districts earlier, it started in the remaining 4 from April 30. It is carried out ahead of the monsoons as the rains are thought to precipitate the mosquito-borne disease.
In order to stop the spread of panic, district administrations have directed both health and education department officials to visit schools and interact with parents and teachers to make them aware about the vaccination.