In recent years, the international campaign to rid the world of polio has been hampered in some Muslim countries by claims from some clerics that the polio vaccine is really an undercover campaign to sterilize Muslim children. Now, an anti-polio campaign in Kenya is meeting opposition from another direction – Kenya’s Catholic bishops, who are calling on the faithful to boycott the vaccine in that country.
At mid-morning in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, workers from the Ministry of Health are doing rounds, immunizing children against polio.
Mary Samula, a teacher, welcomes the team into her home, eager to get her newborn, Shantelle, immunized.
The first round of the campaign ended August 5 and the Ministry of Health said it is on its on its way toward achieving its goal of reaching six million children when the campaign ends September 2.
But despite calls by the Catholic Church to reject the vaccine, Samula, who is Catholic, welcomes it.
“I’d love my baby to be immunized because I don’t want my child to be paralyzed, that’s the first thing. And also I listen to my own voice, I’d like my baby to grow up as a normal child,” she said.
As the campaign was beginning, Kenya's Catholic bishops justified their boycott call by saying it had not been thoroughly tested. The bishops also alleged that the vaccines were birth control in disguise. They had raised similar objections earlier this year to a tetanus vaccination campaign.
“We are in the status where now we must be able to kind of determine our own destiny,” said Cardinal John Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi.
But Dr. Nicholas Muraguri, the Health Ministry's director of medical services, refuted the bishops' concerns as baseless.
“The polio vaccine that is being used in this campaign from the 1st to the 5th of August is safe," he insisted. "It has gone all through the quality assurance system, including our own confirmation in our laboratories that the vaccine is safe."
Catholic officials VOA contacted elsewhere in the world would not comment specifically on the Kenyan bishops' position, saying only that local Church leaders have a responsibility to protect their congregations. But writings from Catholic Church leaders approve of vaccines and see them as a both a way to protect individual lives and public health.