UAE-wide measles immunisation programme raises questions

Grey area surounding whether jab is compulsory or not has parents with already-vaccinated children not sure what to do.

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DUBAI // Parents say they are confused about a national immunisation programme to have 1.5 million children and teenagers inoculated against measles.

On November 1, the Ministry of Health is launching the National Campaign for Vaccination against Measles for everyone aged between 1 and 18. Many older children have already been vaccinated.

The MMR – or 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 6 years.

Schools have sent consent forms home for parents to sign for the mandatory programme.

Those with children who have already had two doses can decline, as can those whose youngsters have medical exemptions, such as an allergy to vaccines.

Indian Priya Pai had her children Adipaya, 14, and Sam, 8, vaccinated as toddlers. They attend Gems World Academy.

“I only found out about the vaccination programme when the school sent some information home with a consent form on Monday,” Ms Pai said. “It is not clear if the vaccination is compulsory. All the school has said is that there must be a valid reason not to take part.”

Rachel Jex, an English nurse at Dubai British Foundation, a nursery near Jumeirah Islands for children between 3 and 5, said responses had been mixed.

“Dubai Health Authority has sent a strongly worded letter to parents to say it is compulsory, but parents can disagree if they can give a reason,” Ms Jex said.

“About half of the parents here have opted out and that is similar in other schools, I believe, because their children have already received a recent dose so they don’t need a second shot.”

There have been concerns that autism spectrum disorders could be linked to certain vaccines, but studies published by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reveal no conclusive link.

Dr Hala El Hagrasi, a paediatric consultant at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said some parents were anxious about the programme.

“Some have asked me about the link between autism and the safety of vaccinations. But I have assured them of research that has found no link,” she said.

Dr Nawal Al Kaabi, the director of the infectious disease and paediatric residency programme at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, said: “I see parents who are reluctant to give their child the vaccine.

“But when I speak to them and explain to them, they all agree to get it. We need to spend more time with the parents.”

The campaign will be carried out by the ministry in collaboration with local health authorities and private health companies.

“Several cases of measles among workers have been reported over the past three months in various parts of the country and they have been successfully treated,” said Dr Hussein Al Rand, assistant undersecretary for clinics and health centres at the ministry.

The World Health Organisation has said measles was one of the leading causes of death among young children.

The first sign is usually a high fever, which begins about 10 days after exposure to the virus and lasts up to a week.

Symptoms can include a runny nose, cough, and red and watery eyes, while small white spots inside the cheeks can develop in the early stage. It is usually followed by a rash on the face and neck. Among the most serious complications are blindness, severe diarrhoea and ear or respiratory infections.

In 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths around the world but vaccinations had resulted in a 75 per cent drop in related deaths between 2000 and 2013.

The WHO figures for the UAE showed there were 292 confirmed cases of measles last year, down from 310 in 2013.

If parents have any questions about the campaign, they can call the DHA on 800 342, or the ministry helpline on 800 11111. A ministry spokesman declined to comment on parents’ confusion.

* Additional reporting by Anam Rizvi