Vaccine deaths on the rise in last three years

Fatal jab

The number of children who have died after being administered vaccine shots has jumped suddenly in the last three years, according to Central government records.

However, none of the deaths have been attributed to vaccines directly. Even though the number of deaths was quite low in the first seven years of the last decade, the spike came in the last three years, when 355 kids died due to adverse events following immunisation (AEFI)—the technical parlance for vaccine deaths.

According to the government’s own records—available with Deccan Herald —as many as 111 children died in 2008, followed by 116 deaths in 2009 and 128 deaths in 2010.

The cause of as many as 72 deaths, out of the 128 deaths in 2010, remain unknown while in 48 cases, it is “coincidental”. In four cases, the culprit was vaccine reaction and in remaining four the cause of death is either injection reaction or programme error.

In comparison, there were only 146 vaccine deaths between 2001 and 2007 and the highest number of deaths—54— were reported in 2006.

AEFI surveillance

While Health ministry officials could not pinpoint the reasons, public health experts agree that India’s AEFI surveillance system deserves to be improved much more.

The AEFI monitoring function is deficient in the national surveillance authority, which needs to pull up its socks to set up a strong surveillance mechanism both for the universal immunisation programme as well as for shots administered by private doctors, said the draft National Vaccine Policy.

The National Vaccine Policy is prepared by an expert panel headed by former director general of Indian Council of Medical Research N K Ganguly.

Responding to a Right to Information application, the ministry said it cannot provide the inquiry reports of AEFI deaths due to measles vaccination in Chennai in 2008 and Madhya Pradesh and Lucknow in 2010 because some of the matters are sub judice and the Lucknow report is yet to be completed.

The final inquiry report on Madhya Pradesh is also not available.

Full immunisation coverage of children (12-23 months) stood at 54.1 per cent in 2007-08, indicating that almost half of the children do not receive the full immunisation coverage. The drop out rates are very high.

Also, 11.3 per cent children were found to have no immunisation, sources said.

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