Expat labourers give a boost to measles vaccination

MUSCAT, Sept 19 – The Ministry of Health is urging expatriates, who have not yet received the measles jab as part of the National Measles Immunisation Campaign, to do so before the end of this month to support Oman’s goal to eliminate this highly contagious infection from the local population. An estimated 200,000 expatriate residents, who fall in the 20 – 35 years age group targeted for measles vaccination coverage, have so far failed to receive the shot, according to a Health Ministry official associated with the campaign. The vast proportion of these expatriates are registered as residents of Muscat Governorate.
“We are appealing to our expatriate brothers and sisters to show consideration to this national campaign and be part of the government’s efforts to combat the threat posed by measles. Your participation in this drive will help the ministry achieve its goal of reaching a coverage rate of 95 per cent and higher, which will go a long way in supporting our ultimate objective of combating future outbreaks among the local population,” the official told the Observer.
The ministry estimates that only 50 – 60 per cent of the total size of the expatriate cohort in Muscat Governorate targeted for vaccine coverage, did indeed receive vaccine jabs during the week-long campaign that concluded on September 16. The size of this cohort is about 480,000-strong, based on figures provided by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).
“If we do reach an additional 185,000 expatriates who did not receive the shot, then our coverage target for Muscat Governorate will have been comfortably achieved,” the official said, noting that government health centres and private clinics will offer the vaccine free of charge till the end of this month.
Surprisingly, the response from blue-collar expatriates to the measles campaign was enthusiastic and widespread, according to the official.
The vast proportion of residents turning up at vaccination centres across the Sultanate turned out to be workers employed by construction and contracting companies. In contrast, the response from white-collar staff and their families was relatively moderate, he noted.
“Clearly, our communications strategy did work in getting the expat blue-collar community to health centres. We used WhatsApp messaging in various languages to reach out to various nationalities and linguistic groups. Those who did not have access to smartphones were covered by our volunteers who went around labour camps in particular, using loud-hailers to highlight the importance of this campaign.”
As for the tepid response from white-collar expats, he said the reasons are still unclear.
“We are confident that our messaging and media coverage did reach this segment of the targeted cohort, but as to why they have stayed away is puzzling. Perhaps, it’s indifference or simply a reluctance to get a vaccination jab for no personal health benefit! We don’t know! But we would like them to show a bit of altruism and support a cause that has important public health implications for the Omani population.”
Private health clinics in Muscat Governorate are understood to have administered around 40,000 – 45,000 vaccines to expatriates during the week-long campaign, with government health centres also catering to small numbers of residents as well.
Outside of the capital region, vaccination coverage of expatriates is understood to be above 90 per cent, primarily because the size of expatriate cohorts in the various governorates is small relative to Muscat Governorate.
Seeking to secure the participation of unvaccinated expatriates in
the campaign, health authorities plan to reach out to private employers to encourage their staff to take the shot within the next 10 days.
“An appeal will shortly go out from the highest levels seeking the participation of expatriates in this drive.
“Of course, there will be no compulsion or coercion of any kind, but we would welcome the whole-hearted participation of the target group in his initiative,” the official stated.

Conrad Prabhu