“If I knew that we would be pleading for my child’s life, I would have never immunised him,” said Mian Said whose two-year-old son, Umer,has been at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) for the last two weeks along with dozens of other children affected by measles.
LRH has seen a surge in cases of Adverse Effect Following Immunisation (AEFI) across Peshawar, while many more have been reported in all of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Many children who have been ‘successfully’ vaccinated first faint and then become unwell. Some have even died.
“My son fainted immediately after getting vaccinated,” said Said. “The lady health workers left the house after seeing my child’s condition worsening. They did not even provide any emergency treatment.”
He has never immunised his children in the past. Now he vows to never do it in the future.
During the measles campaign, three children – Hilal, Rida and Abdul Samad –died reportedly due to the vaccination. In Charsadda, three children named Mazhar, Sabeen and Faizan, also died similarly. And the parents blame the vaccine.
In Shabqadar, a tehsil in Charsadda, 13 schools have refused vaccination from staff conducting the drive. “One of our team was asked to leave by residents. When the team tried to convince them, they forced us out, some even beat us with sticks,” Shaukat Khan, head of the measles vaccination staff at Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, Shabqadar.
Another female staffer, Nazia, said the panic about measles vaccination has caused parents to refuse all inoculation, including hepatitis, tetanus, pneumonia and tuberculosis.
However, the EPI control room confirms the deaths but maintains that children have not died because of the vaccination.
Talking to The Express Tribune, EPI National Manager Dr Ejaz Khan said that all the measles vaccines are WHO pre-qualified. “There is no point in questioning the quality of the vaccine as none of the deaths were caused by it.”
He said that the federal EPI is waiting to get the report from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa about the child deaths. “However, the initial findings of the report reveal that the deaths were caused due to human error,” maintained Dr Ejaz. “The news about the vaccine being the cause of death is inaccurate.”
The vaccines used in the measles campaign were manufactured in India. “This is not the first time that such vaccines have been purchased from India. With Unicef and the WHO’s advice, the federal government purchases the vaccines,” K-P Minister for Health Shahram Khan Tarakai said during a news conference.
Nevertheless, health officials believe that there could be three reasons of AEFI. “Improper storage, its low quality and unskilled technicians,” said an official. “But people should not blame vaccines until the committee constituted to probe the matter presents its report.”
Describing the “human error”, Dr Tabish Hazir, head of the department of pediatrics at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences explained, “Measles vaccine should only be injected by a trained vaccinator, as even a slight mistake can cause death.” The vaccine is being administered through the subcutaneous route preferably into the outer aspect of the upper arm.
Dr Hazir said this vaccine is given as an injection under the skin. But even if the injection is properly administered, there are slight chances of children getting a mild fever, developing a rash or feeling nauseous.
Dr Hazir claims that the reason behind the children falling unconscious during the vaccination happened because of the fear of getting injected. They faint during, not after, he clarified.
At a glance
- 727 cases, 157 deaths reported in total
- 384 cases, 129 deaths in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
- 145 cases, 9 deaths in Sindh
- 84 cases, 6 deaths in Azad Jammu and Kashmir
- 43 cases, 12 deaths in Balochistan
- 27 cases, 1 death in FATA
- 22 cases in Punjab
- 13 cases in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT)
- 6 cases in Capital Development Authority (CDA)
- 3 cases in Gilgit-Baltistan
Published in The Express Tribune, June 16th, 2014.