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February 14, 2021

Thousands of polio vaccine vials found dumped in Lahore godown

Top Story

February 14, 2021

LAHORE: Thousands of vials of polio vaccine were found dumped in a godown in Shahdara area of the city on Saturday, raising questions about the safety and security of the medicine and the country’s ongoing fight against the crippling disease.

“An official of Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) found thousands of vials of vaccines filled in 50 sacks in a scrap junkyard in Cheema Wala Khooh, Begum Kot, Shahdara, Lahore,” says the First Information Report (FIR) at the Shahdara police station, registered on behalf of the Punjab polio programme, on Saturday.

A spokesman for the Punjab polio programme said the vaccines had reached the city from other provinces, as preliminary inquiry was under way. However, the FIR contradicted spokesman’s claim, stating that the vaccine vials had arrived there from different districts of Punjab.

Deputy District Officer Health Dr Nadia Ata, along with a team of vaccinators, was monitoring the ongoing typhoid vaccination campaign when they noticed some empty polio vaccine vials in a house. The officials reported the incident at police helpline 15.

The on-spot investigation from a male and two female members of the family led the EPI officials to an adjacent scrap godown, where they found thousands of polio vaccine sealed vials in 50 sacks lying on the floor. A man in the godown said that they only provide service of washing the vials to the owners of a nearby factory, situated at Baradari Road at Main Farrukh Abad, and return them after washing them.

The Health Department’s team, along with the police, raided the factory and arrested the factory owner, Muhammad Adil. He informed the police that the vaccine vials had arrived from different districts of Punjab for the purpose of washing them on payment. The finance manager of the factory (munshi), Muhammad Asif, is still at large.

“The authorities concerned are ‘pretending’ to be oblivious of the leakage of thousands of vials of vaccine from its custody to evade responsibility,” an official of the Punjab polio programme told The News on condition of anonymity. He said that as per standard operating procedures, (SOPs), the vaccinators return all filled and empty vials back to the Punjab polio programme for storage, while the discovery of the vaccine vials point to a serious breach of security and protocol.

The official said that the department issued 10 vials to each vaccinator in order to administer polio vaccine to 200 children below the age of five years. He said the vaccinators apparently did not complete their job and submit a fake report about full coverage to the department and dump or sale out the vaccine. “This lack of commitment on the part of the vaccinators can be attributed to non-payment of salaries for several months,” he said.

As per the procedure, the official said, the vaccinators are required to deposit the empty and sealed vials of vaccine to the town store. These stores send them to divisional office, which finally sends them to Main Store at Manga Mandi. “The discovery of a huge cache of polio vaccine also casts doubts on the coverage and safety of polio immunization to children below the age of 5 years, which leaves them vulnerable to the wild poliovirus disease,” he said while sensing the alleged anomaly.

Ms Sundas Irshad, in-charge Punjab polio programme, however, claimed that the anti-polio inoculation achieved 99 per cent coverage target in Punjab.

In the year 2020, more than 30 million children, including nearly 18 million in Punjab alone, were left vulnerable to the wild poliovirus across Pakistan after cessation of anti-polio activities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

No cases of wild poliovirus or circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type-2 (cVDPV2) have been reported in the year 2021 so far.

However, in the year 2020, a total of 84 confirmed wild poliovirus cases were reported in Pakistan including 14 in Punjab, 22 each in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, and 26 in Balochistan. Similarly, in the year 2020, as many as 83 cases of cVDPV2 were confirmed across Pakistan including 17 cases in Punjab, 42 cases in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 22 in Sindh and two cases in Balochistan.

Unfortunately, Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world, alongside Afghanistan, still affected by poliovirus.