Zimbabwe's Ministry of Health, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Health Organization Monday launched a national campaign to vaccinate at least five million children between the ages of six months and 15 years against diseases including measles, which has claimed more than 300 lives since September of last year.
Among the first to be immunized were children from some of the Apostolic Faith sects that object to modern medicine on religious grounds, following an intervention late last week by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai with sect leaders.
But some Zimbabweans remained opposed to immunization: as Health Minister Henry Madzorera launched the program a text message campaign was under way urging parents to keep their children away from immunization centers.
The text messages, sent by unknown parties, claimed that vaccines could compromise the health of children without protecting them from disease. Authorities urged parents to ignore the text campaign.
Outbreaks of measles have spread throughout Zimbabwe over the past several months in part due to such resistance to immunization, especially in the east of the country where Apostolic Faith sects count many members.
UNICEF spokeswoman Tsitsi Singizi said everything has been put in place for the drive during World Child Health Days through June 2, but acknowledged that the text messages are causing officials some concern.