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A Vaccine of Discord, or Why Parents in Kyrgyzstan Refuse Vaccination

Last year Kyrgyzstan started talking about the mandatory children’s vaccination law. This year the bill should be submitted to the executive office of the government. If adopted, the only reason for vaccination refusal will be doctors’ recommendations only.

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Over 7 thousand parents in the country refused to have their children vaccinated within 11 months of 2018. One lethal case has been registered.

According to the Republican Immunoprophylaxis Centre, not only families with low level of education from remote locations of Kyrgyzstan, but also city dwellers refuse vaccination.

Gulzina Tashmatova (not her real name – editor’s note) was born and grew up in Bishkek. After graduation from the university, the young woman got married. Now she has three children.

According to her, she has never doubted the vaccination of her children. The older children have passed all necessary procedures and have never had any serious diseases. But after their third baby was born, the family has had a serious row, which nearly ended up with divorce:

— As usual, I took my two-month-old child for a scheduled medical examination, after which it was to be vaccinated. They administered the vaccine and we came back home. However, my husband and I had a quarrel that evening.

My husband was against having our child vaccinated without his consent. I didn’t understand his reaction because two of our children were already vaccinated.  I think it was because my husband became very religious last year. My mother-in-law, just like my husband, was also distressed and threatened to send me to my parent’s house for my disobedience.

That evening, my husband left home. Upon return, he didn’t talk to me for one week. Sometimes, when we quarrel, he threatens me to file for divorce due to my arbitrary decision. My child turns 6 months old soon and we have to take another vaccine, and I am confused right now.

See also: Vaccination in Tajikistan: Pros and Cons

Fighting for every per cent

Gulbara Ishenapysova. Photo from her personal Facebook account

About 80 million soms are allocated annually from the national budget to procure vaccines. 100 millions more are granted by donors.

According to Gulbara Isnenapysova, director of the Republican Immunoprophylaxis Centre of the Ministry of Health of the Kyrgyz Republic, tenders for the procurement of preparations are held through the supply department of the UNICEF and the geography of medication supply is diverse:

For example, a BCG (a vaccine against turberculosis) is made by Japanese, Korean, Belgian manufacturers. A pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is delivered from the United Kingdom. We don’t have cheap Russian or Chinese preparations because they failed the qualification test. The department of drug provision, our centre and the government of the country shall be responsible for the quality of medications supplied.
See also: “I’ll Never Agree on Vaccines.” More Parents in Kazakhstan Refuse Vaccination

In 2016, 4.6 thousand people refused vaccination of their children. In 2017, this number increased up to 7.6 thousand, and during 11 months of last year the number of refusals exceeded 7 thousand. 
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Punishment as a way out

In 2017, the member of parliament, Alfiya Samigullina, suggested to envisage administrative liability of parents for unjustified refusal of vaccination of their children.

“Our country has conquered tetanus, poliomyelitis and diphtheria. Many thanks to those who are engaged in immunoprophylaxis. However, it will be efficient only if 95 per cent of people are covered,” Samigullina said.

Her colleague, deputy Ainuru Altybaeva, thinks punitive measures don’t always have expected outcomes. The task should be performed according to a plan:

“It’s more properly to start an outreach work, to produce videos about the benefits of vaccination, to hold an awareness campaign and thus change the people’s attitude, including religious one, to vaccines.  Not all people are educated enough to understand fully the need of vaccination. It’s easier to explain it in plain language than to punish them.”

See also: “It’s My Child, I’ll Do Whatever I Want.” Why Uzbekistanis Refuse Vaccination

In the media scene of the Kyrgyz-language internet community, there are almost no stories about the negative effect of vaccination, but doubtful videos released on the internet. However, there are multiple examples that prove otherwise.

Last autumn, measles broke out in Kyrgyzstan.  The number of cases exceeded 500 people. 48 per cent are children under one year old. A seven-months-old girl who caught measles died in Bishkek then.

“Medical workers say: sign vaccination refusal form if you don’t want a vaccine!”

The head of the Islamic women’s organisation Mutakalim, Zhamal Frontbek kyzy, thinks that vaccination-related fears of the majority of people are justified.

Zhamal Frontbek kyzy. Photo: CABAR.asia

— Representatives of medical facilities often don’t know the preparation ingredients. When people ask them why vaccination is needed, they cannot give proper explanation. They say, sign vaccination refusal form if you don’t want a vaccine. The ministry of health is not interested in the vaccination of people.

Therefore, not only the religious community, but also many people don’t understand the benefit of vaccination. It’s a common belief that medications contain mercury, heavy metals, etc. However, nobody wants to explain the situation.

By the way, the pilgrims leaving for hajj never refuse vaccination. It’s not about the ban on travel to a foreign state in case of disobedience, but about the right way of provision of information.

Before every hajj, the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK) explains that the vaccine will help them avoid a meningococcal disease and other diseases, which can be transmitted abroad.

Moreover, no one has ever thought about refusing the vaccination, although the procedure costs 1.5 thousand soms. It means that people are ready to pay for it because DUMK has raised their awareness.

According to the applicable legislation, parents may refuse to have their children vaccinated. The article of the law “On immunoprophylaxis” states that parents are responsible for their children’s health. However, the document specifies a temporary refusal to enrol in educational and health facilities in case of outbreak of mass infectious diseases or threatened epidemic.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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