Monyamane speaks on mounting controversy over measles and rubella vaccine
Bereng Mpaki/ Pascalinah Kabi
HEALTH Minister Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane says he is “sincerely sorry” to Basotho for coming across as insensitive amid a mounting controversy over the side-effects of vaccination campaign against measles and rubella diseases.
Last month, the Ministry of Health embarked on a nationwide measles and rubella vaccination campaign targeting children from ages 0-14 years.
However, scores of parents have since claimed their children were adversely affected by the vaccines with side effects that include severe body rashes, high fever and coughing.
There have also been reports that two children died in Leribe although no confirmations of the causes of the deaths have been made through post mortems as yet.
In a press conference on Thursday, Dr Monyamane rubbished claims the two children had died as a result of the vaccination, suggesting they could have “died of malnutrition”.
When asked if a post-mortem was done to reach a conclusion that the children had died of malnutrition, the visibly agitated Dr Monyamane said: “I am not a sangoma (seer, or diviner).
“We will not discuss people’s causes of death. It is unethical and I will not tolerate it.”
He also said the social media pictures apparently showing victims of the adverse effects of the vaccination were fake and had been taken from the textbooks he read in the past.
“These pictures are of white people whose mothers burnt them with hot water, some are of other African countries’ nationals.
“I don’t recognise these pictures as evidence. Where were they taken from? I want children to come to hospital, not their pictures.”
The minister’s comments sparked public outrage with some describing him as arrogant and insensitive.
However, Dr Monyamane yesterday told the Sunday Express his remarks at the press conference were came across as insensitive and arrogant.
He also appealed to the public to take children who showed any side-effects to health centres where they would receive free treatment.
Dr Monyamane also thanked the media for bringing the issue of the adverse effects to the attention of the authorities, without which they would probably have still been in the dark.
“First of all I want to convey my sincere apologies to the nation that the message I gave at the press conference was interpreted as if I am an insensitive and arrogant person,” Dr Monyamane said, adding, “The message came out wrong.”
“I also sincerely thank the media fraternity for alerting us of the presence of children who seem to be developing side-effects from the vaccine.
“We urge every parent who suspects their children may be reacting negatively to the vaccine to approach the nearest public clinics where they will receive treatment free of charge. If the children don’t seem to get any better, parents should proceed to take such children to district hospitals where they will still receive free treatment.”
Dr Monyamane stated that while it was common for some children to show side effects to the vaccine, it was not all children who did this.
He said the measles vaccine was not a new to the country as it had been administered for many years. He said children in Lesotho were showing a mild reaction to the vaccine, with symptoms such as running noses, red eyes, cough and a fine rash.
“While we have received reports of mild reactions to the vaccine, we have not yet received written reports of any life-threatening reactions to the vaccine.
“And the children who have received treatment for the side-effects have recovered well. We have followed up on them and observed that most have resumed their school lessons. The side-effects disappear after about three days.”
Dr Monyamane also said that post mortem investigations needed to be concluded before any conclusions could be made as to whether the deceased children had died of the adverse effects of the vaccine.
“Once again, we are appealing to parents who suspect their children may have died from the vaccine to follow procedures for post mortem investigations. The deaths could have been caused by anything else.”
He said the vaccine used in Lesotho was procured from World Health Organization (WHO) accredited manufacturers and obtained by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on behalf of government.
“The vaccine was not meant to be tested on Basotho children. These vaccines take between 8-10 years from development stage to finally be passed ready for administration to humans. The vaccine we used had already successfully been used in Botswana and Swaziland before coming to Lesotho.”
The minister also said that the public was sensitised about the vaccination beforehand. He said this was done during pregnancy check-up visits to public health centres where mothers-to-be were encouraged to ensure their babies get vaccinated when they were born.
Information was also disseminated to the public was through village health workers.
However, Dr Monyamane said they were going to intensify efforts to allay fears of the public about the vaccine campaign as he was “concerned by the way in which social media is handling the matter.”
“I am once again sorry for the confusion created since it has sent many people into a panic mode and has shown us as irresponsible. It was not the intended message.”
He added however, that the vaccination campaign would go ahead as planned, since there were life-threatening risks for children who were not vaccinated.
“These (measles and rubella) are deadly infections that if not given medical attention, children could have pneumonia, brain damage and can even die as a result.
“The vaccine does not have any contra indications and is safe for administration to all persons except those severely immuno-compromised.”
The minister admitted to losing his cool at the press conference, adding, “I was disappointed that this issue was now being politicised”.
He said the life-threatening nature of the diseases had forced them into vaccinating even those children without medical booklets.
However, human rights lawyer, Lineo Tsikoane said this was a breach of Section 228 of the Child Protection Act.
Advocate Tsikoane said they received damning evidence from over 150 parents whose children negatively reacted from the vaccine.
She said the evidence would be used in a court case against the ministry.
In his responses at the press conference, Dr Monyamane made reference to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an international organisation which he said was very knowledgeable on measles and rubella.
Incidentally, the CDC warns on its website that measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines should not be administered to the following categories of people:
- Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotic neomycin, or any other component of MMR vaccine, should not get the vaccine.
- Anyone who had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of MMR or MMRV vaccine should not get another dose.
- Some people who are sick at the time the shot is scheduled may be advised to wait until they recover before getting MMR vaccine.
- Pregnant women should not get MMR vaccine. Pregnant women who need the vaccine should wait until after giving birth. Women should avoid getting pregnant for 4 weeks after vaccination with MMR vaccine.
- Tell your doctor if the person getting the vaccine:
- Has HIV/AIDS, or another disease that affects the immune system;
- Is being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids;
- Has any kind of cancer;
- Is being treated for cancer with radiation or drugs;
- Has ever had a low platelet count (a blood disorder);
- Has gotten another vaccine within the past 4 weeks;
- Has recently had a transfusion or received other blood products.
However, the CDC recommendations were allegedly not followed before the vaccination campaign was rolled out, especially the part about HIV/AIDS which should have been given prominence due to the high HIV prevalence rate in the country.
In addition, the ministry is currently running a child cancer awareness programme where it says 150 children were annually treated for cancer. This should also be taken into consideration, given that CDC also warns that anyone who was on cancer treatment should not be vaccinated.
And despite Dr Monyamane’s assertions at last Thursday’s press conference that there were no reports of deaths elsewhere, the Namibian media reported in mid-2016 that six parents whose babies died after they were vaccinated for measles and rubella, sought legal assistance to sue that country’s health ministry.
It was reported that 21 babies countrywide had died since 2006 after receiving the vaccines “normally administered to children at six weeks and 12 weeks in what has been termed sudden infant death syndrome”.
It was reported that five of these cases were recorded in July 2016 in Windhoek and caused by complications arising from the measles/rubella vaccination exercise.
Although media reports said WHO had cleared the ministry from any wrongdoings, one of the six babies’ post-mortem report showed that the child died from a vaccination-related cause.
Health ministry Director-General Dr Nyane Letsie also apologised to the public.
“We are sorry. We apologise to Basotho. I know the pain of nursing a sick child. We will not stop at ensuring that children are nursed to good health but ensuring that families get counselling services. The services will be provided regardless of the outcome of the investigations,” Dr Letsie said.
She pleaded with parents and guardians to take their children to health facilities for assistance, saying the ministry would stop at nothing to ensure that children get full assistance.
Dr Letsie said they had called an emergency Inter-council Coordinating Committee on Immunisation to find a way forward on the matter; adding that it was not wise to go ahead with the immunisation problem without getting to the bottom of the crisis.