Indonesia, which has been polio-free for nearly a decade, is ramping up its vaccination program after four children were diagnosed with polio, and children and young children in school uniforms wait in line with their parents at Sigli City Hall on Sumatra island on Nov. 28.
After the polio virus was first detected in October in a partially paralyzed seven-year-old child in Ash state near Sigli, three more children have been found to have the virus, and since then vaccination efforts have been ramped up.
Polio vaccination rates in conservative Ash state have lagged behind other states, officials said, due to widespread misinformation that the vaccine is inappropriate for religious beliefs.
The government has also been prioritizing vaccinations for COVID-19 since the start of the epidemic.
The vaccination program, which began on Nov. 28, aims to vaccinate 1.2 million children in the state, said the Health Ministry’s director general for disease control and prevention, Maci Raine Rondon Nuvu.
“There is no cure for polio. “The only treatment is prevention, and the most important thing for prevention is vaccination,” Rondo Nuvu said.
With a population of 275 million, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world and is predominantly Muslim.
Aceh is a conservative state and is the only Indonesian state that allows Sharia law to be applied.
Ash’s health office chief Hanif said the rampant spread of false rumors that polio vaccine contains pork or alcohol, especially in rural areas, is delaying vaccination efforts.
“We cannot work alone. All parties, including religious leaders, need support. Only then will people understand the importance of vaccination,” he said.
Azhar, the father of a seven-year-old boy who developed polio, said he did not vaccinate his son because other villagers told him that polio vaccines contained harmful chemicals or were not healthy.
“From what the neighbors said, my son didn’t need to be vaccinated and I didn’t want my son to get sick because of the dangerous chemicals,” he said.