A few days ago, I was speaking to a young mother at the restaurant she owns in Ollantaytambo. Her new baby is four months old and had just received her second Rotavirus vaccination. The mother told me that the baby was irritable after receiving the immunization, which was out of character for her.
“Maybe it’s that this vaccine made her sick. Maybe it’s not good for her,” she told me.
I explained to her that her baby was likely under the weather because a small amount of a weakened version of the live virus was released into her, and that this serves to produce defenses in her body so that she won’t become sick with the actual viral infection. She told me she didn’t know that vaccinations worked that way. She also pointed out that her baby’s current crying and discomfort must be minimal compared to the Rotavirus infection itself—which causes diarrhea and vomiting, and even severe dehydration and death in small children.
This mother’s first reaction is just an example of the misunderstandings surrounding vaccines that exist in the communities where we work. Mothers usually aren’t averse to the vaccination, itself, but more the perceived harm done to their children by its side effects. Other mothers have never learned what vaccines do or why they’re important, because few people have been able to provide them culturally-appropriate education on the topic in Quechua.
That’s changing now. Promotoras are learning to analyze children’s vaccination cards to see if certain vaccines are missing. They’re being trained to educate mothers about the value of vaccinations and make them aware of the consequences of not immunizing their children. They will do the legwork for busy mothers and alert them about upcoming vaccination campaigns. Hopefully, they’ll motivate mothers to to comply with their children’s vaccination schedules.
While this mother’s reaction may be expected today, maybe that will change within the next couple of years.
—Written by Courtney Weintraub