Parents still risk their children’s health by refusing vaccinations
ABU DHABI // Parents are still not having their children immunised against potentially deadly illnesses because they believe vaccinations can have side effects or cause disorders such as autism.
Dr Hala Fikri Mohammed El Hagrasi, a consultant in paediatrics at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, said that despite awareness campaigns by the Ministry of Health and the Health Authority Abu Dhabi to promote vaccination against illnesses such as measles, he encountered parents who refused to have their children treated.
“Some mothers are reluctant to get a vaccination for their children because they have the wrong beliefs about vaccines,” Dr El Hagrasi said.
Many such parents come from rural parts of the emirate, the doctor said.
“They fear their children will get autism. But there have been several studies and no relationship with the vaccine for measles has been found.”
By failing to protect their children against measles – a serious respiratory disease that causes a rash and fever and, in rare cases, death – they are not only putting their offspring at risk, said Dr El Hagrasi.
If a baby or a young school pupil contracts measles, it is likely they will pass it on to other children.
“Measles is highly contagious,” said Dr El Hagrasi. “If one child gets it, then the whole class gets it. “Measles can cause death but it is very easily vaccinated against.”
Some mothers also believed there may be dangerous side effects from vaccines such as convulsions or a fever, said Dr El Hagrasi.
“They hear from one of their friends or a family member about a complication that happened to one baby who had a vaccine from measles, mumps and rubella and so they worry it might happen to their child,” she said.
“While vaccines, like any medicine, may have side effects, most children who get the MMR shot will not experience any complication.”
The MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is usually given to infants in two doses. In the UAE, the first MMR shot is given at 15 months, followed by a second at six years.
On November 1 last year, the Ministry of Health launched the National Campaign for Vaccination Against Measles for every one younger than 18.
The World Health Organisation said 94 per cent of children in the UAE were immunised against measles, giving the country one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
To achieve a 100 per cent immunisation rate, shock tactics might have to be used to persuade sceptical parents, said Dr C S N Vittal, who works at LLH Hospital in Abu Dhabi.
“Experts recommend that a good way to convince people of the benefits of vaccination is by showing pictures of children with measles or to have them read literature which the other children with measles have written,” he said.
“We should continue our efforts to educate people about vaccine safety.”
Dr Vittal said the anti-vaccine movement was based on “fear, uncertainty and doubt”.
“Vaccines are tested on thousands of people before being licensed and allowed on the market,” said the paediatrician. “Allergic reactions to vaccines are estimated to occur at a rate of one every 1.5 million doses of vaccine.”
Dr Mohammed Patel, a paediatrician at Medeor 24x7 Hospital in Abu Dhabi, stressed that vaccines are very safe and any reaction or side effect, such as a fever, tend to be minor and temporary.
“Serious adverse reactions are extremely rare and are carefully monitored and investigated. Most vaccine scares have been shown to be false alarms,” he said. “Vaccines provide a safe and efficient way to avoid the spread of many communicable diseases.”
The number of cases involving infectious diseases in the UAE has fallen significantly since the National Immunisation Programme was introduced in 1980.
In 1993, the UAE was declared a polio-free country. There has also been a significant drop in the number of cases involving measles, mumps and rubella, and whooping coughs.