Already grappling with the oft-impressed canard that the polio vaccine leads to impotency, Uttar Pradesh health officials are now trying hard to dissuade people from// believing an American report claiming that the vaccine could even lead to cancer.
And once again those falling easy prey to it were Muslims, whose resistance to the vaccine is well known.
And with the latest count of 438, Uttar Pradesh arguably accounts for the world's highest number of polio cases.
The report was carried in a lesser-known Urdu daily Aag Oct 11 but what appeared to have really ignited opposition against the vaccine was circulation of photocopies of the Urdu paper in villages around major cities on the eve of the periodical polio eradication drive Sunday.
As many as 130 million children were vaccinated across the country that day.
While officials went door to door to complete their immunization round, several Muslim families shut their homes.
"Our vaccination teams did their best to convince these misguided families but to no avail", said a leader of one of the vaccination teams which encountered stiff opposition to the Sunday drive in Chinhat village on the outskirts of Lucknow.
"They would just refuse to listen to us, citing the American report," the volunteer told IANS.
Aag editor Ahmad Ibrahim attributed the report to an Urdu News Network, whose editor Raza Haider was stated to have told a daily: "All our news reports are well researched and authenticated."
Villagers were not willing to be convinced even when they were shown copies of letters received from Saudi Arabian health ministry certifying oral polio vaccine as the safest and necessary means to check incidence of the crippling disease.
Aligarh Muslim University vice chancellor Naseem Ahmed, who had been roped in by the Rotary Club to persuade religious leaders and the community to get all Muslim children
vaccinated against polio, had said that "illiteracy and ignorance have been holding people back, but once they know the vaccine is good for their children, they will want them to be immunised".
A UNICEF survey had revealed that a majority of cases were detected among Muslims - 30 percent were Hindu families and a staggering 70 percent in Muslim families.
Alarmed by such stiff opposition, top WHO polio campaign official Aradhana Johri decided to personally visit some of these villages in western Uttar Pradesh.
"This is how well intentioned programmes suffer on account of irresponsible media," she told IANS over telephone from Loni village in Ghaziabad district.
"There is absolutely no truth in such reports. I have personally cross-checked with WHO experts in Geneva who have confirmed that the oral vaccine has no side-effects whatsoever and the question of the vaccine inducing any kind of disease including impotency or cancer just does not arise."
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