Image: Pixnio

A connection between the measles vaccine and pork may be responsible for the current outbreak. Sacha van Niekerk finds out more.

Measles outbreak in the Western Cape and some parts of Gauteng have reportedly been linked to families who refuse to vaccinate their children for religious reasons.

The outbreak has prompted the Department of Health (DoH) to launch an emergency measles vaccination campaign which will run until the end of June reportedly costing taxpayers an estimated R29-million.

Dr Imran Keeka, Democratic Alliance KZN spokesperson on Health, explained the connection between religion and the measles vaccination.

“Muslims are forbidden from consuming pork and pork products. It is suggested that vaccines given by the state are those that contain porcine gelatine and so the controversy regarding the use of these vaccines has arisen.

"The permissibility of the use of those vaccines containing porcine gelatine is a matter best guided by Muslim Scholars whose opinions vary. The majority of scholars, in short, allow for the use based on sound religious authority and those that do not have valid reasons as well, "he said.

Meanwhile The Islamic Medical Association says given the gravity of the situation families should be vaccinating their children irrespective of a connection or not.

Dr Keeka is in favour of the view of scholars who advocate for the use of the porcine based vaccine.

He said, “There are vaccines for measles that do not contain porcine gelatine but these are priced beyond the reach of many South Africans. This is not a reason to avoid vaccination, but rather one of permissibility to use those containing porcine products to protect everyone instead of the alternate which is contracting the disease with possible dire complications.”

The South African updated Expanded Programme on Immunisation provides for the measles vaccine to be given at six months and at 12 months and then booster vaccines later on.

There was a significant period in 2016 where children were not vaccinated because of the unavailability of the measles vaccine.

“This was attributed to shortages nationally and the unavailability of the needles to administer the vaccine. This no doubt results in a break in the vaccination programme chain. Parents seldom following up timeously and the consequences can be acute as we have seen recently,” said Dr Keeka.

Hospersa General Secretary Noel Desfontaines said, “Although we commend the DoH for their action in response to the outbreak, we are worried about their state of readiness in dealing with such an outbreak. 

"Our healthcare system is critically under-staffed and experiences shortage of medication in many parts of the country. We can only hope that the vaccination campaign will yield positive results and not be seen as another opportunity for corrupt tender deals by public officials.”