More Turkish parents are refusing vaccinations for their children - report

As Turkish parents in recent years have become more sceptical about vaccines, the professional organisations warn that increase in vaccine rejection may cause outbreaks of preventable diseases, Public Radio International (PRI) reported on Friday.

The Turkish Medical Association said in April that the country was at risk for outbreaks of preventable diseases that have already been eradicated in Turkey.

Dr. Nilay Etiler, a public health expert and member of the Turkish Medical Association working group on vaccines, told PRI that there were mainly two groups in the country rejecting vaccines: Muslims who believe that vaccines contain pork, which is forbidden in Islam, and  secular and  typically well-educated people who often believe that vaccines contain harmful substances like aluminium or mercury. 

While Turkey’s Health Ministry advises a slate of childhood immunisations against 13 diseases, no law exists to mandate the ministry’s vaccination program, PRI said. The Constitutional Court in 2016 ruled in favour of parents who refused vaccinations for their children, saying that there was no legal basis for mandatory vaccinations. 

Mehmet Ceyhan, a member of the immunisation advisory board of the Health Ministry, said last year that a total of 23,000 parents had refused to have their children vaccinated in 2017. If this figure rises to 50,000, Turkey may face a measles epidemic, he said. 

The number of reported measles cases increased eight-fold in Turkey with 716 reported cases in 2018, according to the World Health Organisation. The official figures show the number of confirmed cases spiked to 1,468 in the first half of 2019.

“We don’t have an estimation for possible outbreaks, because we don’t know the vaccination rates,” Etiler told PRI. 

According to Sezin, a pharmacist in Istanbul who declined to share her last name, the pharmacies are now selling vaccines mainly to young people with chronic illnesses. “Customers always ask questions about whether there’s mercury in the vaccine, or what will happen if they don’t use the vaccine,” she said.