BANGKOK – The National Health Security Office (NHSO) has been given approval for a 54-million-baht-budget to procure 100,000 doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. The doses are expected to arrive in August and won’t affect the government’s national immunization plan.
The Public Health Minister, Clin. Prof. Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, who chairs the NHSO board, said the board recognizes the importance of protecting people’s health and preventing the spread of measles by providing dosess of the MMR vaccine to unvaccinated people in Thailand. The Department of Disease Control, under the Ministry of Public Health, initially requested a budget of 93 million baht to procure doses of the MMR vaccine. The Ministry of Finance approved 54 million baht. The NHSO, with the support of the state-run Rajavithi Hospital, then set aside a budget of 22 million baht to buy 100,000 doses of the vaccine.
Following the NHSO board meeting, the Public Health Minister said the MMR vaccine will be delivered in August this year and the doses will be given to un-vaccinated Thai children under seven years of age and people who reside in crowded environments, such as in prisons, military camps, and factories. Clin. Prof. Piyasakol added that the MMR vaccination will not affect the government’s national immunization activities.
In August of 2018 health authorities are raced to contain a measles outbreak in the country’s southern provinces, where 14 deaths and more than 1,500 cases were reported.
Thai health officials blamed the comeback of the disease on low vaccination rates in the South caused by misconceptions among the Muslim population about the nature of the vaccine.
Islam prohibits the consumption of pork, and vaccine makers sometimes use gelatin derived from pork products as a stabilizing agent. However, health official Vicharn Pawan said Thailand imports measles vaccine products that do not contain porcine gelatin.
The recent cases in Buddhist-dominated Thailand’s Muslim-majority southern provinces represent half the total for the whole country since the beginning of the year.
Measles cases nationwide have increased in recent years, Thailand’s Health Ministry said. Last year, nearly 3,000 cases — with no deaths — were reported, compared to just over 1,000 in 2012. According to the UN’s World Health Organization, this year Japan and Brazil have also reported measles outbreaks, while Europe experienced a surge in 2017 with more than 20,000 cases and 35 deaths.
“Increasingly, there is a lot of misunderstanding about vaccinations that spread around Muslim communities here. Some said it is against their religion to receive vaccine shots, while others think it’s not safe,” said Anchanee Heemmina, a rights activist who lives in an affected area in the south.
According to the Thai Health Ministry’s Prevention and Control office, the misunderstandings about vaccinations have resulted in some areas in which only 60% of the population receives immunizations.
For highly contagious diseases such as measles, the World Health Organization says at least 95% of the population must be vaccinated for a community to be considered immune to the spread of the disease.
Health authorities in Thailand have posted messages from local religious leaders on their websites urging people to accept vaccinations.
One video message from the Central Islamic Council of Thailand explains that even if vaccines contain religiously prohibited items, the medical benefit to a person and the community would take precedence.
Health workers meanwhile are visiting schools and homes in areas with measles outbreaks to target children under age 5 for free vaccinations, offering them also to others who are judged vulnerable. They are also trying to spread the word that Islamic religious bodies have given their approval for the use of such vaccines, said Vicharn Pawan, director of the Health Ministry’s Bureau of Risk Communication and Health Behavior.
Resistance has not been overcome. Twenty families from three villages in Yala province refused vaccinations, with 10 of the families signing formal letters stating their intention to not receive any immunizations in the future, public broadcaster ThaiPBS reported Monday.
Yala’s public health office said in a statement that its medical teams will continue to work in the communities to address their concerns.
“We are still facing tough tasks,” said Mr Vicharn. “But health workers will continue to reach out to communities. Even if they refuse vaccinations this time around, we will have to keep up the visits and continue to deliver the message that vaccines are good for their health and their community.”
By Geoff Thomas
Sources: AP, NNT