Church told off over polio vaccine

By: EUNICE KILONZO and SAMUEL KARANJA

The Catholic Church was told on Wednesday to stay away from the polio vaccine debate.

Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the arguments over the vaccine’s safety “will cause total confusion and children will continue dying”.

Speaking when he launched a document on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, the CS appealed to the church to let medical experts do their work.

“We respect the church but if we try to manage health through individual beliefs, it will be difficult. Let us look at the bigger picture as this is a global campaign,” he said.

The CS said Kenya does not manufacture vaccines and they all come from a source certified by the World Health Organisation and distributed by Unicef.

“Let us be rational and think about the poor children who require this vaccination,” said Mr Macharia amidst applause.

And in a sign that the standoff is far from over, the church did not send a representative to a meeting called by the ministry on the polio campaign.

WHO country director Custodia Mandlhate accused the church of “lying and being hypocritical” while Medical Services Director Nicholas Muraguri said the campaign would go on despite the church’s resistance.

He said the vaccine had been distributed to 8,000 health centres in readiness for August 1 to 5 immunisation.

Dr Muraguri accused the church of dishonesty, saying it was among the 200 stakeholders consulted before the immunisation was announced.

“Many meetings have been held after we postponed the campaign five months ago but we reached a point where we had to make a difficult choice to ensure children are not exposed to polio. We will not allow three people to stop this campaign,” he said.

Dr Muraguri said the disagreement with church emanated from demands that tests on the vaccine be done at a certain laboratory while regulations stipulate they are done in a WHO approved laboratory.

He also said the church was not clear on what element of the vaccine it wanted tested.

On Tuesday, the Catholic Church had demanded to be involved in testing the vaccine to be used in the anti-polio campaign.

The church has in the past objected to the use of a tetanus vaccine, claiming it was a disguised contraceptive. It claimed the vaccine was laced with a hormone that makes women infertile.