Aid workers propose measles shot campaign

Anissa S. Febrina, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Amid public concern about a heightened threat of infectious diseases in flood-damaged locations, humanitarian workers have called for emergency mass immunizations, particularly of children.

Sociologist Imam B. Prasodjo, who works with non-governmental organization the Nurani Dunia Foundation, said children should at least be vaccinated against measles, which could spread very quickly under the present circumstances.

The Health Ministry had previously scheduled mass measles vaccinations for Feb. 20-27.

“It’s standard procedure after a disaster. Why wait, risking our children’s health because of the bureaucratic process?” Imam said.

Considering the urgency, the Nurani Dunia Foundation has set up a vaccination post in Bukit Duri, South Jakarta, and plans to open another in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta.

Several other humanitarian organizations have also established health posts.

A public health activist with an international non-governmental organization, who asked not to be named, said it was urgent to prevent a disease outbreak among flood victims.

“For the time being, it need not be done citywide, just in temporary shelters, where people are living in substandard conditions.”

He said his office was also concerned children might receive more than one dose of the same vaccine within days and temporarily planned to immunize only susceptible children in areas where a case of measles had already been reported.

Children must have two measles shots, given at least one month apart to prevent side effects.

“But it would not be prevention if we had to wait until a child was infected. Furthermore, measles spreads very quickly,” he added.

Health officers should be able to avoid overlaps in the vaccination drive as there was no such problem during the polio campaign.

Jakarta Health Agency deputy head Shalimar Salim said the agency was still discussing the possibility of vaccinating children ahead of schedule.

“We are certainly considering it. And we hope other institutions are making similar plans so they can work together with us,” she said.

However, it seems the health workers assigned to temporary shelters have not been informed of the plan.

“This is unlike the Yogya disaster. We do not need emergency vaccinations to the best of my knowledge,” said Virly Nanda, a doctor assigned to Senayan temporary shelter.

According to Shalimar, the administration plans to vaccinate children under the age of five against measles and polio, as well as supplying them with vitamin A capsules.

“We are waiting for the Health Ministry’s approval to vaccinate child flood victims. But it takes to time to get things ready.”