Kenyan Catholic bishops have strongly opposed a national tetanus vaccination campaign, which the Government launched on 13 October targeting 2.4 million women of child-bearing age.
The bishops have told Catholics to shun the vaccination, saying the Government had not taken measures to ensure it was not being used as contraceptive.
The bishops fear the vaccine is laced with Beta Human Chorionic gonadotropin (B-HCG), a hormone that makes women sterile. The hormone has been used by development agencies in Philippines, Mexico and Nicaragua to vaccinate women against future pregnancy, the bishops said.
According to Bishop Paul Kariuki, the chairman of the Catholic Health Commission, the Kenyan campaign bore the hallmark of others carried out in those countries.
The Church, Bishop Kariuki said, wanted to ensure vaccines administered were free of the hormone to protect the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person.
The Government has defended the vaccine, saying it has been certified as safe.
Ray Towey, a Catholic medical missionary who has worked in East Africa for 20 years, particularly in the treatment of tetanus, said the bishops’ objection was “a great scandal”.
The reason that young women are targeted is to eliminate neonatal tetanus, he said. This is a condition where a dirty umbilical cord wound, while the placenta is attached to the baby, in a newborn baby results in neo-natal tetanus. The mortality rate for this condition is almost 100 per cent in most rural hospitals in Africa. This can be eliminated by the vaccination of pregnant women or women of child-bearing age.
In this case “gender injustice” works against men: there are donations to African countries to eliminate neonatal tetanus but not to eliminate tetanus for the population as a whole.