Beliefs Culture Institutions

Kenya Catholic bishops call for polio vaccine boycott

A newly arrived Somali refugee child receives a polio drop at the Ifo extension refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border, August 1, 2011. Photo couresy REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
A newly arrived Somali refugee child receives a polio drop at the Ifo extension refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border, August 1, 2011. Photo couresy REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

A newly arrived Somali refugee child receives a polio drop at the Ifo extension refugee camp near the Kenya-Somalia border, August 1, 2011. Photo couresy REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) Roman Catholic bishops in Kenya have urged citizens to boycott a mass polio vaccination campaign, unless the safety of the vaccine has been confirmed through scientific tests.

The oral vaccination campaign, by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, is scheduled to begin in Kenya on Aug. 1.

Ahead of the campaign’s launch, the bishops questioned the safety of the vaccines, saying the manufacturer failed to provide requested information and the government disregarded the bishops’ request for tests.

READ: Kenya’s Catholic bishops: Tetanus vaccine is birth control in disguise

Their concerns heightened after a recent unrelated incident in which about 30 children who received an injection of an anti-malarial drug in a dispensary in western Kenya appeared to be paralyzed. The drug, believed to be quinine for advanced cases, was found to contain the pain drug paracetamol, according to the bishops. Paracetamol  is also known as acetaminophen.

The government Ministry of Health defended the vaccine in a statement issued Tuesday (July 28.)

“Any attempts aimed at mobilizing the public against taking their children for vaccination is a serious violation of the right of children to health and survival,” said Dr. Nicholas Muraguri, director of Kenya’s Medical Services, in the statement.

READ: California Senate votes to end ‘personal belief’ exemption for vaccines

“The ministry of health once again reassures the public of the safety of all vaccines used in Kenya,” he said. “I therefore appeal to all stakeholders, especially the leadership of the Catholic Church, to continue supporting” the immunization campaign in Kenya.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis in hours. It can strike at any age but mainly affects children under age 5, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. There is no cure; the strategy to eradicate polio is based on preventing infection by immunizing every child until transmission stops spreading.

“We are not in conflict with the Ministry of Health, but we have an apostolic and moral duty to ensure Kenyans are getting safe vaccines,” Bishop Philip Anyolo, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops chair, told journalists at a news conference in Nairobi.

Early this year, the bishops had tangled with government after the clerics claimed a mass neonatal tetanus vaccination campaign was a disguised form of population control. The government and the bishops later agreed to test all vaccines before, during and after the campaign, according to the bishops.

“We are not fighting anybody, but we are saying let us determine our destiny. The moment things (vaccines) are formulated from outside and there are problems, it is our people who suffer. That’s why we are voicing this issue,” said Cardinal John Njue, the bishop of Nairobi.


About the author

Fredrick Nzwili

Fredrick Nzwili is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more than 15 years, he has written about religion, politics, peace and conflict, development, security, environment and wildlife. His articles have appeared in international media organizations among others; The Tablet, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Geographic and Kenyan local newspapers; The Standard and the People Daily.


Click here to post a comment

  • So now people should let clergy make medical determinations for the public health? Once people started giving them input on family planning medical options, they get a little drunk with power. Ridiculous.

    How about this, ignore paranoid superstitious clergy in favor of medical professionals in the region. If doctors have a problem with the vaccine, let them voice it. After all one should not let amateurs and hysterics dictate policy best left to experts in the field.

  • Hey, kids! Enjoy your polio! Remember, God loves you. And don’t forget your contribution on your way out the door.

  • So — what are the pharma companies hiding, that they can’t provide basic information about these vaccines upon request? Are they from U.S. or Euro pharma companies? Are they using aborted fetal tissue? Why won’t they respond to basic requests for information?

  • Listen guys. I live in the US and there is already a huge debate about vaccines. Guys don’t accept this vaccines. The west is just experimenting on you. The clergy know what they are talking about. WHO? UNICEF? These dudes have an agenda.

  • A similar sad story emerged after a large batch of polio vaccine was badly prepared in the U.S. In the 1950’s. I know that poor manufacture process is hazardous in food, medicine and in all public works. People likewise were wary of polio vaccine for awhile.

  • And yet despite the hysteria polio has been eradicated in the US and the developed world. All thanks to vaccines such as the ones being distributed here.

    There is nothing sane or rational about the anti-vaccine hysteria. Even the most pessimistic possibility of a side effect of these treatments is still far less dangerous than the disease it protects against.

  • Religion is always at war against science. That is why religion is a public nuisance – like gambling and drinking. Religion is a vice – not a virtue.

    Nothing is easier than preserving one’s ignorance. Faith and superstitions are the laziest things ever invented.

    Vaccines work. Like science.
    And it Doesn’t matter if you believe it or not.

  • Did you even read the article? I think you instead keyed in on certain words and phrases, and stemming from an innate and unrelated hostility to the Church, decided that this article says something that it doesn’t. For the record: The Church is NOT against vaccines, AT ALL. The bishops think this could be repeat of a mass neonatal tetanus vaccination campaign that was a disguised form of population control. This concern had enough validity that the government and the bishops agreed to test ALL vaccines before, during and after the campaign. Asked now the government has crawfished on the deal! They don’t want to have the vaccines tested!?!? Warning ⚠!!! Don’t take the medicine until they show it it’s what they say it is. That’s just common sense, or horse sense. The opposite is jackassery.

  • No, its a hostility to people decrying vaccines out of their own self-interest and ignorance. The bishops were blithering 1diots the last time when they falsely claimed it was a form of population control. They continue the streak.

    If you had actual medical professionals coming up with these concerns then they might have a scintilla of credibility. But in the overwhelming majority of the cases, we just have hysterics, rumor mills and echo chamber nonsense going around.

    “Don’t take the medicine until they show it it’s what they say it is.”

    Like you are going to know what they are showing you? The internet provides a lot of information, but it is no substitute for medical training.

  • These fools don’t know what they’re talking about. In the 1st world, polio is a thing of the past and they’re a hindrance to that in Kenya. Damn anti-science religious fanatics.

  • Err, since when is the World Health Organization or pharmaceutical companies answerable to the Catholic Church? These bishops have zero scientific credibility or medical expertise; there’s no reason to meet their demands, because their opinion is IRRELEVANT when it comes to vaccine safety and effectiveness. Their permission is not needed or sought.

  • “The clergy know what they are talking about.”

    That would be a considerable change of pace.

  • So… DON’T trust medical professionals, because they might be cooking up a big conspiracy.

    But DO trust religious officials who have no scientific or medical training whatsoever, because THEY know what they’re talking about.


  • Maybe we can discount the opinion of the people that claim that condoms INCREASE the spread of Aids?

  • The ‘debate’ about vaccines in North America is purely among uninformed descendents of Chicken Little; and it’s a complete crap.

  • No, there is not a huge debate about vaccines in the US. There are a few especially noisy, medically untrained celebrities and their lapdog followers squealing and squawking about how certain vaccines cause this illness or that malady, or contain this contaminant or that toxin, but fail to provide a shred of credible scientific evidence to support their claims. The vast majority of Americans and nearly all scientists and medical professionals believe in and support vaccinations for children and adults alike for all diseases, many of which have been eradicated in the US. The “West” is not experimenting on you. The clergy know about religion, not about medicine. If you want to know about God ask the clergy. If you want to know about vaccines and diseases ask a doctor. WHO and UNICEF are part of the United Nations and they exist to help those in the world that cannot help themselves. They want to eliminate diseases from Kenya just as they have been eliminated from the US.

  • If you are talking about SV40 (Simian Virus-40) that contaminated stocks of the injected form of the polio vaccine used between 1955 to 1963, that has not been used for decades and has no relevance whatsoever to modern polio vaccines you imbecile. That is really reaching–you are so pathetic.

  • Aborted Fetal Tissue? You know that Planned Parenthood video was a hoax, right? That they were talking about donated tissues, not selling them?

    Have you always been a dishonest person?

  • The bishops, while well-intentioned, are misinformed. The vaccines have already been tested. Are there adverse reactions sometimes? Of course! Every person’s biochemistry is different, but for a majority of people, vaccines are safe and effective. That is the reason smallpox and polio are almost completely eradicated all over the world.

  • I agree with the catholic bishops that we should delay the vaccines until all stakeholders are in agreement on its use. This is called democracy. The catholic church represents millions of Kenyans views that cannot be just ignored. This is a matter of personal choice and about life and death. Nobody should be forced to be vaccinated against their will. As it stands, mistakes in medical history have been made before. We know that vaccine trials take place in developing countries. We cannot ignore this fact. We also know that pharmaceuticals stand to lose a lot if they do not promote their their vaccines. Delay does not mean denial. It only means that we need to be sure before we move forward. Despite that they are not medical fraternity, they do have information from credible sources. Doctors are not always right and that’s why we seek further council. I see not reason why we cannot wait it out whats the hurry we need to be educated and informed. See the following article on…

  • Science and medicine is not a democratic process. If something has merit, it is proven so by the evidence, not debate. Polio vaccines have eradicated the virus in the developed world. If not for the lack of access to places like Kenya, it would be eradicated there too. The concerns lack merit and are irresponsibly dangerous to the public.

    Pharmaceutical companies lose money on vaccines. If not for government and NGO support for them, those companies have no impetus to produce them. The “big Pharma” claims are untrue.

    Delay for such non-medical hysterical reasons amounts to denial since those requesting the delay have no reasonable goals in mind. They will never be satisfied by a response by those in the vaccination program. Unless you have medical education, you are in no position to make claims whether a treatment is correct or safe. Doctors don’t always agree. But when they do as a group, it is significant.

  • Did you read the article? It just said that the clerics *claimed* it was a form of population control. It actually was not and they agreed to test the vaccines in order to quell the conspiracy theory. These people should not be allowed within 100m of anything having to do with the well-being of children, considering their track record in this sort of thing. So test the vaccines, make the results public, but the only thing the Church does here is serve as an echo chamber for panic.

  • “What’s the hurry?”

    This is the price society pays for religion. It turns otherwise intelligent people into fools.

    Religion is a public nuisance we must grudgingly tolerate, like smoking. But we can work at diminishing its power and protect children from it.

  • WHO and UNICEF are not super humans. we need and have a right to confirm what they tell us. Concerns:
    1. Why is the vaccination regimen not recorded in the pink books they give us for clinics and all other vaccinations? there should be record of how many doses a child has received for future reference in case something goes wrong.
    2. is there data showing that some children had got polio even after been given the KEPI stipulated doses? polio paralyzes and kills ,yes, but science has it that a good % of the infection are self healing. malaria and even rata virus is killing in masses in Kenya. what is this perceived emergency about it that we cant have our concerns settled first. how does the vaccine work? the people broadcasting it have no idea. I think the fact that the ministry is not addressing the issues and bulldozing it way make the whole exercise sinister

  • It’s not a question of being answerable to the church, it’s a question of being answerable to the people who they want to inject. Medical interventions should be proven safe and effective plus all the possible effects of the medication should be told to the patient. Why is this such a problem for you and for others on this list? Would YOU let someone inject something into YOU without you knowing what it was and what was in it?! I certainly wouldn’t!!

  • Polio has not been eradicated from the US. The medical profession simply narrowed the field of diagnosis and changed the name of the disease. Asceptic meningitis, Guillain Barre Syndrome, Acute Flaccid Poliomyelitis – these are but a few of the diseases that were once called polio. All done in the name of ‘proving’ that the polio vaccine worked. In South Africa, wild polio is not found but vaccine strains of polio ARE found – where? In the feces of children who have been vaccinated against polio.

  • “Unless you have medical education, you are in no position to make claims whether a treatment is correct or safe”. Really?! Who says?! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to read reports where an ‘outbreak’ of whatever disease is amongst people who are already vaccinated and to conclude that vaccines fail! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the ingredients in vaccines are not tested, and have never been tested, for safety!! All vaccines contain unknown viruses and foreign proteins including DNA. Anyone with half a brain cell functioning can understand the dangers of injecting unknown substances into a human being. In any event, it is up to the individual to decide what goes into their body, not for some paid-off corrupt bureaucrat.

  • “Are there adverse reactions sometimes? Of course!”. EXACTLY! That’s why people should have a choice and be informed of the dangerous effects of vaccines. If you are in the majority of people, that’s great. But if you are in the minority?!

    The vaccines have not been properly tested. They can’t be. There are unknown viruses and DNA in EVERY vaccine. How can you test something when you don’t know/can’t identify what is in there? Has the polio vaccine been tested for carcinogenicity? NO!

    If the pharmaceutical companies say “there is no evidence of harm” then either they haven’t looked or they’ve buried the data!! Just check for the latest scandal and the CDC with regard to withholding evidence regarding the MMR and autism in young black boys. And you want us to TRUST these people?!

  • Are you a pharmaceutical company shill?
    Because it’s a known proven fact that every current marketed vaccine does indeed contain fetal cell line tissue. This is obtained from the organs of aborted fetuses. It is also a known proven fact that six vials of tetanus vaccine were obtained in Kenya for independent lab testing and anti-hcg was found in all 6.

  • Diseases have not been eliminated from the United States due to vaccines but due to better hygiene and improved nutrition. But that is irrelevant to the issue of vaccines in Kenya because Kenya is not being treated with the same vaccines that American children receive.

  • You have been misinformed. Polio has not been eradicated from the US. There are confirmed cases every year, cdc proven by DNA analysis. They are also able to prove that it is never wild polio, it is proven via DNA to be a direct result of vaccinations. The child sheds polio virus in the feces for between 3-5 months. Wild polio has become a much milder illness, again, due to better nutrition and stronger health status, as such in the US when it is seen it is usually renamed.