Dr Shimna Azeez, a Manjeri Medical College, Malappuram, medical officer did wonders in spreading the message for measles-Rubella vaccination, among parents of school children, she had gone visiting when on the spur of the moment, she injected herself with the vaccine.
The action was a spontaneous reaction to the challenge thrown at her, by a parent on taking it herself before recommending it to others.The incident, that occurred at this school which she was visiting to provide information and dispel myths in the minds of parents, regarding vaccinations, soon had those attending the talk, abuzz with what she had just done; inject herself to abate widespread myths about vaccinations.
In October when the state government had launched an extensive MR vaccination campaign, very few couples turned up at the vaccination camps to get their children injected. Kerala was not only facing the task of eradicating the two diseases, but also combating the growing public campaigns against vaccinations.
Dr. Shimna’s experience at the school became the pivot around which a revolutionary number of children got vaccinated after her, whose parents felt convinced about the benefits of the inject, she revealed to the TNM.
“There were close to 300 parents who were listening to my class. This school was located in an area where there was high resistance to vaccination. The discussion was going smoothly for about an hour and a half, where parents were voicing their concerns. Some asked why we were only giving vaccination to children below the age of 15. In that context, I was explaining to them that MR generally affects children more than adults and happened to mention that although I had taken Measles vaccination as a child, I hadn’t got a Rubella vaccination done. I told them that although I wanted to do it, I hadn’t done so yet,” Dr Shimna recalls.
She further remembers a father of a child standing up in that crowd, challenging her to take the injection in front of the parents, which she did. What followed was unbelievable. A powerful message had been sent across, through her action, with the local media taking it up in a big way. Her action got more visibility, thereby, changing more minds about the benefits of vaccination and their safety.
The government’s pro-vaccination campaign has also met with a strong counter agitation against vaccinations. There has been active resistance from people of Malappuram and Kozhikode, which has acted as a hindrance to MR eradication efforts of the state.
Resistance to modern medicine or vaccination, she says is not new phenomena, with naturopathy practitioners, homeopathy doctors, and certain religious groups resisting. Anti-science campaigns have always acted as setbacks for the health sector. Being online, these campaigns reach the reader faster than one can imagine, she adds.
“The main means by which they propagated the idea was through WhatsApp and Facebook. Videos are made discouraging people to not take modern medicine. Then, of course, there is word of mouth communication. For instance, in Malappuram, people would trust their neighbour more than they trust science. And so, convincing the layman was the key,” she told The News Minute.
It was this anti-vaccination campaign that gave rise to Infoclinic, a Facebook page run by a team of doctors across Kerala including Dr Shimna
Social media was crowded with the messages that anti-vaccination campaigners wanted to spread; with not enough information countering it. This was a starting point for Infoclinic, a Facebook page launched in October 2016, run by a team of doctors across Kerala. Handled by five administrators who are doctors from different districts, Infoclinic is a collective of 26 doctors.