TRC demands vaccine explanation
MASERU – THE Transformation Resource Centre (TRC) says the Ministry of Health should explain why some children reacted badly to the measles and rubella vaccine.
In a letter to Principal Secretary ‘Malerato Khoeli, the TRC’s Acting Director ’Makananelo Lekaka says the ministry should “initiate an urgent, independent, and publically transparent investigation”.
The ministry embarked on a nationwide campaign to vaccinate children under 14 years against measles and rubella in February.
Some children suffered rash and flu-like symptoms after the injection, sparking widespread fear among parents.
The United Nations Children’s Fund in Lesotho says the vaccines were procured from the Serum Institute of India Ltd.
“In the light of testimonies of parents and children following these vaccinations, we have reason to believe that there have been large-scale adverse events to the vaccinations administered,” Lekaka said.
“We stress that these adverse events are not mere side-effects within the normal range of anticipated, mild effects of the vaccinations”.
“We understand side effects to be transient and of a minor nature, some occurring commonly and others less so. We understand that adverse events occur far less frequently, are more acute and severe in nature, and can cause significant morbidity for a less transient duration.”
Lekaka said four children have reportedly died.
“We are not aware that there has been any post-mortem confirming the cause of death of these children”.
The TRC said it is aware that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that “generally, the adverse reactions following vaccination with the RA27/3 rubella vaccine, whether monovalent or in fixed combinations, are mild, particularly in children”.
“Common adverse reactions include pain, redness and induration at the site of injection. Low-grade fever and rash, irritability, lymphadenopathy, myalgia and paraesthesia are commonly reported”.
The TRC also quoted WHO as saying “Adverse reactions following measles vaccination are generally mild and transient”.
“In our view, the scale of the adverse events and their severity indicates a problem with the vaccines or their administration beyond ordinary side effects,” the TRC said.
It said it suspects the vaccines could be expired, another factor being breaks in cold chains during the procurement and logistics processes.
The civic association also suspects poor administration of the vaccines and failure to take into account qualifying criteria could have contributed to the reactions.
“We note in this regard the recommendations of the WHO on the storage of rubella vaccines,” the letter reads.
“The diluent must not be frozen but should be cooled before reconstitution. Reconstituted measles vaccine loses about 50 percent of its potency after 1 hour at 20 °C; it loses almost all potency after 1 hour at 37 °C,” the letter reads.
“The vaccine is also sensitive to sunlight; hence it is kept in coloured glass vials. After reconstitution, the vaccine must be stored in the dark at 2–8 °C and used within 6 hours.”
The TRC also said WHO directs that “Rubella vaccines should not be given to persons suffering from severe immunodeficiency, including advanced HIV infection and AIDS, congenital immune disorders, malignancies and aggressive immunosuppressive therapy”.
“We note that even in the event that the cause of the adverse effects was due to the actions or omissions of non-state actors, the State retains the obligation under international law to, at a minimum, investigate the issue.”
A team from the WHO arrived yesterday to launch investigations into the rubella and measles vaccination reaction.
Stakeholders met last week where the Ministry of Health presented the journey of the vaccine from the manufacturer to the end user.
“We are still trying to establish what went wrong and why there was an outburst from the public about the vaccination,” Director General Dr ’Nyane Letsie said.
“We are working diligently as the ministry to find these serious adverse effects,” she said.
“Last week we were saying the standards were met in the campaign, and this was not in self-defence but to say we managed the campaign well but we are to find where we went wrong.”
The ministry has vaccinated at least 533 546 out of the 678 459 target meaning the ministry has covered 79 percent of its target.
Letsie said as a country we already have high infant mortality and these vaccines help in the fight to reduce numbers of child deaths.
“We want health services to be appreciated, we want that trust back. We are not seeing children already in some areas because of what happened, imagine what would happen after 10 years if these children are not immunized,” Letsie said.
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