Health minister diffuses alarm over measles vaccine

Prevention is better… A nurse at the DRC informal settlement State clinic, Memory Ruzo (right) injects seven-year-old Tulimeameno Shaaninka against measles and rubella. The countrywide campaign runs from July 11 to 22.


Many people have expressed concerns about the measles and rubella vaccination campaign that started on Monday and want to know why the government is only targeting people between the ages of nine months and 39 years old.

In response to questions raised by members of the public suspicious about the reasons for the targeted age group for the vaccination campaign, Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Bernhard Haufiku clarified that his ministry has no bad intention in targeting only certain age groups in the current vaccination campaign.

Those who took issue with the age categories posted questions on social media asking why people above the age of 39 years are excluded, considering the fact that measles and rubella are airborne diseases.

“What makes people from the age of 40 and above immune to measles and rubella? The health ministry is saying these diseases spread from person to person through the air – which then means everyone is at risk,” one concerned person noted.

Some blamed Ministry of Health officials for failing to widely disseminate information, while others wanted to know if there is an outbreak of measles and rubella in the country. When contacted for comment yesterday, the health minister said:
“We’ve done epidemiological research and found that most cases that are detected are in that age group (between nine months and 39 years old). So it is a targeted immunisation campaign and not a blanket one.”

Further, he explained that the standard norm, procedure and recommendation of the World Health Organisation is that when there is an epidemic that threatens the wider population, one must target a certain age group – otherwise it is not cost effective. “It’s just common sense,” Minister Haifiku said, noting his surprise that some people would suspect the ministry of health of colluding or targeting these age groups for malicious intent.

“As much as the ministry officials might not have disseminated the information, how many people have contacted the ministry to seek the true information, instead of going to Facebook? This is a typical Namibian syndrome,” Haufiku remarked. Moreover, he noted that children from nine months and young adults up to 39 years old are primarily the ones who have no immunity against rubella and measles. He also explained that the ministry has a different schedule for the vaccination of newborn babies up to nine months, which is why they are not included in the current campaign.

“If you are over the age of 39 years, you are more likely to have immunity against rubella and measles. So there’s no need for you to be vaccinated. The vaccine is only for the age category of nine months and up to 39 years,” he reiterated and urged people in the targeted age categories to go for vaccination and to ignore the rampant misinformation about the ongoing rubella and measles campaign.

The ministry advised that pregnant women should not be vaccinated against measles and rubella until they have delivered, adding that couples that are planning for a baby should delay pregnancy for four months after vaccination.

Measles and rubella (German measles) are diseases that spread from person to person through the air – meaning one can get infected by being around someone who has the disease. Measles cause rashes, cough, runny nose, eye irritation, and fever. It can lead to ear infection, pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death.

Additionally, rubella causes rashes, arthritis (mostly in women) and mild fever. Therefore, if a woman gets infected while pregnant, it could lead to a miscarriage, or her baby could suffer birth defects.
The vaccination campaign is scheduled to end on July 22.


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