The Ministry of Health has moved to calm public fears over the safety of the measles and rubella (MR) vaccine, which was administered to 4.5 million Cambodian children in the last three months of 2013, as rumors circulate that it poses sinister health risks, according to a statement issued last week.
In January, the National Immunization Program announced it had surpassed by 500,000 its goal of giving the combined MR vaccine to 4 million children between 9 months and 15 years of age in October, November and December, the largest nationwide vaccination program ever carried out in Cambodia.
“Recently, there have been a number of unfounded rumors that have wrongly caused confusion and provoked fear in some communities by questioning the source and quality of the vaccine which has been used so successfully in the vaccination campaign against measles and rubella in late 2013,” says the joint statement by the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UNICEF.
The statement assures the public that the vaccine is safe and properly sourced but does not elaborate upon the specific nature of the claims made against it.
“We would like to reiterate that all vaccines used by the Ministry of Health in the national program are sourced by Unicef from companies approved by the World Health Organization…in order to ensure that people receive only the best quality vaccines,” the statement says, adding that it is imperative that parents and guardians trust the government and seek advice from local health workers about the benefits of the vaccines.
Richard Duncan, a technical officer for the WHO’s Expanded Program on Immunization, said that he could not comment on the rumors other than to say that they concerned the quality and sourcing of the vaccine.
“Every single one of the rumors we are hearing are false—the vaccines are sourced by Unicef and approved by the WHO and we have complete confidence in them,” he said, adding that backlash to vaccination programs is not unique to Cambodia.
Mr. Duncan said that easier access to information online and the rise of social media may have facilitated the spread of rumors in Cambodia, though he said it would not affect the vaccination campaign as it had already achieved all its objectives.
“We are concerned, however, that it may undermine the annual routine vaccination programs,” he said.