Cameroon Vaccinates for Measles, But Says Hesitancy Persists

Officials in Cameroon say vaccine hesitancy is preventing them from inoculating millions of children for childhood diseases in the first major campaign since the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

The country has an outbreak of measles and rubella that has killed 18 children and sickened more than 4,000 this year. The public health ministry said several thousand vaccinators have been dispatched to over 200 hospitals in Cameroon to inoculate more than 5.5 million children against measles and rubella. 

The government says the vaccinators are also visiting homes, churches, mosques, markets and camps to make sure every child under 10 years old is inoculated.

Thirty-six-year-old carpenter Ongene Pierre says he stopped the vaccinators from inoculating his three children at Nyom, a neighborhood in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde. 

He said he doesn’t understand why the government wants all children under 10 to be vaccinated, adding that health workers should not be visiting public places to vaccinate children without the approval of parents.

Ongene said he has never received a vaccine and sees no reason for his children to be vaccinated.

Jeanette Moloua, a medical staff member in the public health ministry, said the nationwide vaccination campaign targets children from 9 months to 5 years who are the most affected by the measles outbreak. 

“We should make sure our children take the two doses of the vaccine because this will boost their immune system,” she said. “We should sensitize the public, those with rubella, we direct them to the hospital for them to get treatment, and also it is treated by the same vaccine, the MMR vaccine which fights against measles, mumps and rubella.”

Moloa said the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is safe and there is no harm getting another dose.

Cameroon’s ministry of health says less than 30% of about 5.5 million children targeted for vaccination in the five-day campaign launched Wednesday have been vaccinated. The government says a lack of trust is the leading cause of vaccine hesitancy. In addition, a lack of access to vaccination information and long distances from vaccination centers and hospitals prevent mothers from getting their children vaccinated.

The National Institute of Statistics says that Cameroon has a high proportion of he world’s zero-dose or unvaccinated children. The center says several pockets in Cameroon traditionally miss essential health care services, including vaccinations.

Health officials say parents should make sure their children get two doses of MMR vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.

The ongoing vaccination campaign is the biggest since Cameroon reported its first cases of COVID-19 in March 2020. The government says when COVID-19 was reported in the central African state, parents were afraid to take their children to hospitals for vaccinations because hospitals were also COVID-19 test and treatment centers.

Health workers say a major challenge for them now is having access to some parts of western English-speaking regions. Separatist fighters have declared that they don’t want workers from the central government in Yaounde in English-speaking towns and villages.

Cameroon’s military says it is protecting health workers and is asking civilians to denounce fighters against government troops so the vaccination drive can be successful. 

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