IAP Admits to Pentavalent Vaccine Deaths in India

Vaccine related deaths: Gujarat tops the chart

ASunita Bora, a nine-year old tribal girl living in Vadodara died suddenly in 2010. She was one of the two students who died after they were administered a anti-cervical cancer vaccine that was meant for observation studies. There are several cases of adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) like this, but they don't get reported. According to the latest figures available with Mirror, 128 children have succumbed to AEFI across the country and shockingly, Gujarat accounts for the highest number of such deaths in India.

Moreover, experts from the Indian Academy of Paediatrics (IAP) say the data is the tip of the iceberg as most of the deaths go unreported. Gujarat has the unenviable distinction of topping the list with 38 deaths followed by Uttar Pradesh (25), TN (12), Maharashtra (12) and West Bengal (10). The figures came out following an RTI application filed by this correspondent on September 23, 2014. The data was provided by Deputy Director (Stats) K K Bansal. AEFIcould be because of vaccine quality, contamination and complications in the health of the child. It may lead to disabilities and deaths.

According to IAP, most of these deaths are caused by pentavalent vaccine. "After enrolling the vaccine in 11 states of India, the number of AEFI has surged drastically. Around 90 per cent of such cases are due to pentavalent vaccine. Other than south Indian states, Gujarat also shares a large part of the deaths," said Dr Vipin Vashishtha, IAPCOI convener. Pentavalent vaccine is a five-in-one conjugate that combines antigens against five infections - diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus (DPT), hepatitis B and Hib Meningitis. It was first introduced in Kerala and Tamil Nadu as a pilot project on December 14, 2011.

The following year, 19 children died due to AEFI. Two PILs were filed in the Supreme Court seeking ban on pentavalent. However, it didn't stop the government from launching it in seven states, including Gujarat, during the second half of 2012. Soon after its launch in the state, two children died after they were administered the vaccine. This was reported in a response to an RTI application filed by K V Babu of Kannur in Kerala. The figure has surged to 38 deaths. Dr Yogesh Jain, former assistant professor of paediatrics at AIIMS in Delhi had clearly stated in his PIL to ban pentavalent vaccine as it had adverse side-effects and was banned in many developed countries. "The most deadly component of the vaccine is diptheria, pertusis, tetanus (DPT)," added Dr Vashishtha.

Due to lack of awareness many such deaths go unreported. Highlighting the issue, Dr Vashishtha stated in a report published in Indian Pediatrics that there was almost no participation from the private sector. "It is important that AEFI from this sector are also reported and investigated, as per the national guidelines. Additionally, the AEFI reporting from private sector hospitals will provide vital information on the safety of new vaccines in India," stated the report. However, Dr Chetan Trivedi, president of Association of Pediatrics, Ahmedabad said that private hospitals hardly see any such cases.

"Though we have a large number of patients who go to private hospitals for vaccinations, we haven't recorded any case of AEFI that we can report," he said. Last year, former Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in a written reply to Rajya Sabha stated, "There has been rise in the reported Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) cases all over the country including 8 states (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa, Jammu & Kashmir, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka and Puducherry) where pentavalent vaccine has been introduced in phased manner." When Mirror contacted state Health Minister Nitin Patel, he said that every year more than 12 lakh children are born and they are vaccinated. "The vaccination process in the state is extremely extensive and efficient. But we haven't come across any such incident. It (the death) may be accidental or due to the prior health condition of the child," he said. He, however, said he would look into the matter and gather more information.