A PRELIMINARY investigation into the alleged side effects of the recent measles and rubella (MR) immunisation programme has ruled that the deaths of four children were coincidental and were not in any way a result of the vaccines.
This was said by Director General- Health Services, ‘Nyane Letsie yesterday after receiving the report of the preliminary findings of the National Adverse Effects Following Immunisation Committee (AEFI).
The AEFI investigations were conducted in the aftermath of the Ministry of Health’s nationwide measles and rubella vaccination campaign in February targeting children aged from 9 months to 14 years. The 14-day campaign immunised 533 546 children which represented 79 percent of the targeted children.
However, hundreds of parents subsequently claimed their children were adversely affected by the vaccines with side-effects that include severe body rashes, high fever and coughing.
Four children reportedly died from the side effects, with the latest dying at Queen ‘Mamohato Memorial Hospital two weeks ago. However, there has not yet been any postmortem confirming the vaccine as the cause of death.
And yesterday, Dr Letsie said the AEFI’s investigations found that the four children’s were not caused by the MR vaccine.
Dr Letsie said the AEFI was a competent team of independent local clinical experts trained on vaccine safety surveillance who visited the deceased’s homes and hospitals where they were treated to establish the children’s health history prior to the vaccination to get to the bottom of the matter.
She said government had followed up on the vaccine saga as a demonstration of its commitment to transparency and ensuring it retained the public’s full trust in its programmes.
Dr Letsie said in one case, the deceased one-year-old girl had a generalised skin infection for six months prior to the vaccination and had not been taken for adequate treatment as her family relied more on home remedies.
She said her condition worsened over time and leading to additional infections as confirmed from the hospital laboratory reports where she was admitted on 16 March and died on the 25th of the same month.
“The child was vaccinated with Measles and Rubella vaccine on 17 February, however as the pre-existing skin infection continued to worsen the child died and the death was classified as coincidental,” Dr Letsie said.
She said in the second case a boy aged one year and three months, who was severely malnourished, was kept at a day care centre in Leribe district because his parents were working further away for more than three months.
The child was hospitalised on 8 March with complaints of diarrhoea and pneumonia and despite all efforts to improve his condition, he reportedly deteriorated and died in hospital on 12 March.
Dr Letsie added that there were high rates of malnourishment in the Leribe district where the immunisation was carried out on 27 February and since the MR vaccine was not known to cause severe acute malnutrition and diarrhoea, this case was also ruled by the committee to be coincidental.
The third case related to a three year old boy who presented with diarrhoea, got vaccinated on 28 February 28 and fell ill on 28 March.
The family reportedly sought to manage the condition at home and only for him to be hospitalised on 29 March as his condition worsened and he died despite attempts to revive him.
Dr Letsie said this case was also ruled as coincidental because MR was not known to cause severe acute diarrhoea.
The fourth case concerned an 18 month-old girl who also had diarrhoea on 25 March and had been vaccinated on 16 February.
She was admitted at a private clinic where the doctor advised for her to be admitted at a referral hospital the next day due to the severity of the diarrhoea.
However, her condition worsened and she died on 26 March.
Dr. Letsie said the vaccines were continually tested and monitored by WHO before they were approved for use, saying evidence both globally and in Lesotho had shown that the vaccines were safe and benefitted children throughout their lives.
“The fact remains that the side effects of vaccines are minor and minimal, lasting only a few days and do not limit life,” Dr Letsie said, adding the Ministry of Health would share the final report with the media.
She urged Basotho to continue to taking their children for scheduled vaccinations as the dangers of preventable illnesses such as blindness and paralysis were greater than the risks of a serious adverse reaction to the vaccine.
Dr Letsie also said the investigations would continue as the causality assessment was conducted per individual case. –LENA