Rumours are the biggest hurdles to immunisation. A video claiming immunisation made children infertile and impotent went viral in Mewat in Haryana and forced the government to scrap its immunisation drive last month under Mission Indradhanush.
It is the NDA’s flagship programme that aims to raise routine immunisation coverage from the current 71% to more than 90% by 2020 by focusing on underserved areas.
In January, texts and audio clips shared on WhatsApp and Facebook urging parents not to get their children vaccinated against measles and rubella (German measles) in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka rocked the campaign to eliminate the disease that killed an estimated 49,200 children in India in 2015.
India’s measles elimination programme in five states almost stopped before it started because of these rumours.
“Rumours by nature are not based on facts and dispelling them involves going on an information, education and communication overdrive at the grassroots level,” says Dr Pradeep Haldar, deputy commissioner immunisation, ministry of health and family welfare.
“Despite the rumours, India eradicated polio. Even measles-rubella vaccine (MR-VAC) in five states — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Puducherry, Lakshwadeep on February 7 — got more than 95% coverage,” said Dr Haldar.
Despite roadblocks, Mission Indradhanush is improving reach. More than 2.14 crore children and around 56 lakh pregnant women have been immunised since December 2014, with India’s routine immunisation coverage increasing by 5-7% over two years, compared to an average of 1% over the past decade, shows the Integrated Child Health & Immunization Survey.