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March 14, 2018

Deaths from tainted measles vaccine affecting anti-polio drive


March 14, 2018

Polio eradication efforts in Karachi and other parts of Sindh suffered a setback on Monday when vaccinators going door to door for administering oral polio vaccine said a large number of parents refused to get their children immunised over fears the vaccine could be harmful, as was the tainted measles vaccine that had resulted in several deaths of children in Nawabshah earlier this month.

Many parents cited video clips circulating on social media, in which some people claimed that the polio vaccine was resulting in deaths of children. The third polio campaign of the year in the six districts of Karachi and 23 districts in the rest of Sindh started on Monday and would continue till March 16. Over 2.2 million children less than five years of age would be approached for administering oral polio vaccine to them.

Vaccinators were perplexed when several people, especially from low-income group people, refused to get their children vaccinated against polio, saying their vaccine had already caused deaths of several children in Nawabshah.

Four children had died a few days back in the Nawabshah district and over a dozen had fallen sick during an anti-measles vaccination drive. Another child died on Saturday while undergoing treatment at Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi. He too had been given tainted measles vaccine in Nawabshah.

Officials involved in the polio vaccination drive confirmed to The News that refusals had increased due to the recent deaths during the measles vaccination drive and because of propaganda on social media platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp, against the polio vaccine.

A spokesman for the Emergency Operations Centre for Polio Eradication in Sindh rejected all propaganda and told parents that the polio vaccine was safe and had not resulted in any death or sickness to any children ever in the country or abroad. “No death has been caused by the polio vaccine drops or injections ever and those doing propaganda against the polio vaccine are misleading the people.”

The total case count for polio in 2017 was eight in Pakistan, out of which two cases were from Karachi in Sindh. This is a historical low for the country and the province, he said, adding that there had been no polio cases so far in the current year.

EOC Sindh Coordinator Fayaz Jatoi said in his message: “We are in a good position to eradicate polio, the environment samples in Karachi have cleared up, but more work needs to be done, and we must push harder to eradicate polio once and for all. The teams must continue their hard work and parents must come forward to vaccinate their children to save them from the scourge of polio. No child should suffer from a vaccine preventable disease and it is our collective responsibility to work towards that.”

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