Measles vaccine rumours in Jordan fuel rising fears of epidemic

Health officials scotch ‘unsafe’ rumours over Indian-manufactured vaccine scheduled for November

Some families in Jordan are said to be considering keeping their children from school so they don't receive the measles vaccine. AFP
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When Jordanian office manager Heba Radwan was notified that her five-year-old daughter’s school was beginning to vaccinate pupils against measles, she was ready to sign the consent form.

But then she received a phone call from her mother urging her not to allow young Tala to be given the vaccine.

“My mother heard that the vaccine is dangerous and that it would make Tala infertile,” said Ms Radwan, who has not yet decided how to respond to the school.

“She said that the vaccine is Indian and that it is faulty."

Tala is one of millions whom Jordanian authorities plan to inoculate at the start of next month to contain a measles outbreak.

Officials insist the vaccination is effective and safe – and warned the side effects of measles can be "incurable".

Yet rumours persist on the internet and on the street that the shot is harmful and can even result in death.

The struggle to convince people, especially parents, of its safety reflects public health challenges in Jordan in the wake of Covid-19.

Curfews and vaccine controversies have undermined confidence in government measures to contain infectious diseases.

Um Abed, a house helper from the Deir Alla area in the Jordan Valley, who works in Amman, said she has stopped sending her four children to school in case they are given the vaccine.

“Every one I know in Deir Alla is convinced that the measles vaccine will harm their children,” she said, adding that all of her family had refused the Covid vaccine.

'Quack stories' circulating

The last official data from 2021 shows that fewer than half of Jordan's 10 million population had taken up the minimum two Covid jabs.

In an effort to dispel the rumours, senior education and health officials addressed the public on official TV on Monday, urging them to take the vaccine when the campaign starts at the beginning of November.

“Quack stories are being circulated,” said Azmi Mahafzah, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

He said the producer of the vaccine, Serum Institute of India, is one of the world’s largest medical manufacturers and has an 80 per cent share of the worldwide market for the MR measles vaccine, which the Jordanian government will be using.

“It is effective and safe,” he said.

Mr Mahafzah, who is a former professor of medicine, said apathy in Jordan over vaccinations was rare before Covid 19.

He cited the 3.7 million people vaccinated in the last measles outbreak in 2013 and another vaccination campaign in the 1990s that contained a polio outbreak.

“People are being urged not to go to school to not take the vaccine," he said. "This is new for Jordan and it is painful."

Jordan, regarded as a medium-income country, came 81st out of 137 countries in the latest World Economic Forum index in terms of infant mortality and 78th for life expectancy.

Health Minister Firas Al Hawari said the measles outbreak started in March, with at least 169 cases recorded since.

“More than five cases qualifies as an outbreak,” he said, adding that 95 per cent of the target population needed to be vaccinated to stop the disease spreading.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 2:45 PM