5 non-vaccinated kids in K'taka died to JE in 2 years

Five non-vaccinated children in Karnataka succumb to Japanese Encephalitis in two years

Vaccines can be given to children on a large scale only on the Government of India's approval

JE vaccine is given at nine months and 16 months of age to children. Credit: iStock Photo

Though Japanese Encephalitis (JE) is a vaccine-preventable disease, two non-vaccinated children succumbed to it last year and three non-vaccinated children succumbed to it in 2019, because currently, the JE vaccine is being only given in 10 endemic districts of Karnataka.

These children did not belong to these ten districts. JE vaccine is given to children at nine months and 16 months of age.

Vaccines can be given to children on a large scale only on the Government of India's approval. Though Karnataka got approval for giving the vaccine in ten additional districts apart from the existing ten, the rollout did not happen because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The result is the death of three children in 2019 and two in 2020 to JE.

Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES) on the other hand does not have a vaccine.

Karnataka saw 342 AES cases and four deaths in 2020, along with 19 Japanese Encephalitis (JE) cases. In 2019, the state saw 388 AES cases and 33 JE cases. Currently, the vaccines are being given in Kolar, Chikkabalapur, Mandya, Davanagere, Raichur, Dharwad, Ballari, Koppal, Vijayapura, and Chitradurga.

The additional districts proposed for JE immunisation are Tumakuru, Yadgir, Bagalkot, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, Kalaburagi, Bidar, Chamarajanagar, Ramanagar, and Koppal.

An official of the state's National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP), said, "Two JE deaths in 2020 happened in Yadgir and Udupi. Both these districts are not part of the universal immunisation programme for the JE vaccine. Once a suspected or a JE case is found, we take up all preventive and vector control measures."

"Children below 15 are surveyed for fever in that locality and the community around is educated that a case has been reported. In JE, even one case is considered an outbreak. We cannot start vaccinating children in a district even if deaths are reported there without GoI's approval. We had proposed Tumkur and Yadgir districts to be added to JE vaccination last year itself and we got the approval also but because of Covid-19 pandemic, it did not get implemented in 2020," the official said. An immunisation official said they had not received any official communication from GoI regarding vaccine rollout in additional districts.

Golden period 72 hours

Dr V Ravi, retired Senior Professor of Neurovirology, said, "India started vaccinating children against JE, a brain infection, in 2006. After vaccination started, cases started coming down. The main symptoms of encephalitis are fever, altered sensorium, and/or seizures. In the case of JE, children have to be brought to a hospital within 72 hours, which is the golden period so that they can be saved."

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