The polio programme in India has suffered due to lack of awareness and ignorance. Many parents have kept their children away from the drive due to misplaced fears of their wellbeing.
After the death of four children in Tamil Nadu, another immunisation progarmme could be in trouble.
Ironically, this is happening in a state that has the best record in the country for immunising its children.
Jayamala is so relieved her 11-month-old is alive. Baby Kalaiyarasi got her anti-measles shot on Wednesday and the same day four other babies died in Tiruvallur district soon after being vaccinated.
''They said four babies had died. I just couldn't take it. I started crying. We took her to hospital at 1.30 in the afternoon and they gave intravenous glucose,'' said Jayamala, mother of Kalaiyarasi.
The vaccine vials had come from Karchur Primary Health Centre. Though it was administered from a separate vial by a different village health nurse.
When asked if she will give her baby the second shot of vaccines, Jayamala replied, ''No, I will not. I don't want to lose my baby. I am too scared of getting my children vaccinated now. Even if the child is unwell, I am afraid to take the child to hospital.''
This is unfortunate because Tamil Nadu has the best track record in the country with immunisation coverage at 95 per cent.
Public health observers say that the big challenge for health authorities is to get to the root cause and restore public confidence so that years of work is not undone.
''The government has to build confidence, show this is a anomaly, a rare case. Otherwise people may not take immunisation because of fear, insecurity,'' said Dr K Shanmugavelayutham, child health activist.
More people use public health services in Tamil Nadu than anywhere else in the country.
No polio has been reported in the last four years
There's been no incidence of diphtheria and whooping cough and
WHO has declared Tamil Nadu a neo-natal tetanus-free state
Questions are now being raised about a possible break in cold chain and contamination due to official negligence.
Besides, public health observers say, protocols are routinely followed, like checking indicator and health workers discard the vial whenever there is a colour change.
''We have a very good system of cold chain. We want to ensure and emphasise that don't mind the wastage. We want every child immunised, taking care of child health and child safety,'' said Dr Saravana Kumar, PHC duty doctor, Maraimalainagar.
Interestingly, used vials are kept in the same ice-lined refrigerator for a week for testing in case some allergy or adverse reaction is reported. Health centre officials say it is marked and always stored separately.
''It's not just the public that is afraid of getting vaccinated. Even nurses are scared of administering the vaccine now,'' said K Komathy, President, Village Health Nurse Association.
Public confidence is obviously shaken when a life-saving vaccine is perceived as something that causes death. Locals say the death of the four babies should not go in vain. For that, the inquiry should focus on correcting the wrongs rather than making scapegoats.
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