A viral image claims that schools in Kerala are forcibly injecting Muslim girls with an injection that has the side effects of making them infertile.
Fact-Checking the Medicine
First, in a quick image search, we zoomed into the viral image and saw that the medicine shown was MR-VAC, which is a common Measles and Rubella vaccine.
FIT found the same image on the Serum Group of India site, which a private vaccination production company and one of the biggest worldwide.
Does MR-VAC Cause Infertility?
FIT spoke to Dr Ankit Prasad, a pediatric consultant at Fortis Hospital to clarify the claims of the message and he said that,
“This is a baseless rumour. There have been no trusted studies or reports confirming the link between MR-VAC and infertility. This is a very important vaccine and a must for every child.”Dr Ankit Prasad
Dr Prasad added that the vaccine is ideally given only to children till they are 15 years of age, and should follow a schedule as per their age.
“It should be given to children in phases: at nine months, 15 months and then four years according to the guidelines. But if this has been missed, there can be further ‘catch up vaccination’ till the child is 15.”
He said that the side effects are mild and rare, and include irritability and a mild fever like the Serum Group’s site states.
The vaccine is safe and effective, and according to Vikaspedia, girls who menstruate before 15 years can also be given the vaccine safely.
India’s Vaccination Mission
India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released their national guidelines for measles-rubella vaccination and immunization in 2017.
As per the above screenshot of the guidelines, children aged 9 months to 15 years are to be vaccinated in a phased manner, like Dr Prasad said, to build immunity against the virus and “reduce the measles and rubella transmission in the entire community.”
“MR-VAC is part of the government’s mission and to be conducted in immunization sessions in schools. Rumours around these things always spread and they are unfortunate as this vaccine is very important for children.”Dr Prasad
Dr Prasad adds that these guidelines are WHO and UNICEF recommended and are to be in effect from February 2017 till April 2019. The same is stated in the guidelines as well and that other stakeholders like the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Indian Medical Association, Civil Society Organization are involved too.
The goal of the vaccination program is that by 2020, 41 crore children would be vaccinated and India would become entirely measles and have controlled the spread of rubella and congenital rubella syndrome or CRS.
Dr Prasad explained that CRS is when rubella ‘titers’ get transferred from mother to child and so, “vaccination is essential to prevent the generational transfer of rubella.”
“Measles and rubella vaccination is recommended world over and is as per WHO standards.”
Rumors Around Vaccination
Fear-mongering around vaccination is not new, and misinformation or suspicion about the effectiveness or side-effects of the vaccine can result in a public health crisis.
A similar rumour about vaccines and infertility spread in Nigeria in 2003 which resulted in a boycott of the country’s polio vaccination program that lasted for 14 months, reported The Conversation.
This had devastating effects on the population and Nigeria still struggles to remain polio free, despite massive advances in other countries in the continent.
The bottom line is that as far as the medicinal part of the message goes, the image shown is that of an essential vaccine and causes no severe side effects, especially not that of infertility. On the contrary, these fear-mongering messages could be harmful to entire populations and result in the spread of preventable, deadly diseases.