Paidamoyo Chipunza Health Reporter
SEVERE side effects that developed in a number of children who were immunised during the just ended immunisation campaign have prompted Government to embark on a thorough investigation.
Addressing journalists in Harare yesterday, Health and Child Welfare Minister Dr Henry Madzorera said they were compiling a comprehensive report on the actual number of children who reacted negatively to the immunisation jabs.
The report is expected to be complete within a few weeks.
“My ministry will as per protocol convene meetings with the relevant specialists and in due course provide a comprehensive update of all the adverse events, type and nature and extend and establish casualty once information on the vaccines, batch numbers and other parameters has been received from the vaccinating centres,” said Minister Madzorera.
About two million children countrywide between the ages of zero and 59 months received measles, polio and Vitamin A supplementation between 18 and 27 June — a campaign Government described as successful.
“A number of severe adverse events were reported during this campaign and the Ministry has held discussions with the Expanded Programme on Immunisation team and partners, pending a comprehensive report from the field teams,” Dr Madzorera said.
Despite the side effects, senior health officials maintain that vaccination remains the key intervention in preventing childhood illnesses, disability and deaths.
Minister Madzorera attributed the side effects to underlying illnesses in children to power disruptions that affected the temperatures for the vaccines.
He said vaccines were sensitive and temperature fluctuations in storage facilities can compromise their quality.
Minister Madzorera said since the campaign was held during the winter spell, a number of diseases such as flu, pneumonia and rotavirus could have triggered the increase in recorded adverse events.
He said that some cases of maternal and child mortality rates might have coincided with the campaign.
Minister Madzorera further explained that since the vaccination process was meant to provoke the body to produce antibodies against a particular disease, there might be a reaction in the form of raised temperature, rash, general malaise, abdominal upset and in some cases this would be fatal.
He said the size of population immunised explained why the national campaign had a high number of cases affected by side effects.
“During the NIDs, or other supplementary immunisation activity, a larger than usual number of children get vaccinated during a short space of time and a larger number of adverse events are therefore anticipated,” Dr Madzorera said.
United Nations Children’s Fund country representative Dr Peter Salama, whose organisation supplied the vaccines for the campaign, said the quality of vaccines procured by his organisation met World Health Organisation standards.
Dr Salama said Zimbabwe through the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe has the stringiest conditions of quality testing compared to other countries on the continent.
“Zimbabwe is one of the few countries that does a second quality testing on vaccines. It just do not take drugs because they are certified elsewhere, but they double check for safety,” Dr Salama said.
World Health Organisation country representative Dr Custodia Mandlhate appealed to parents to continue bringing children for immunisation because vaccination is safe and pre-qualified by WHO.
Dr Mandlhate also urged health workers to use the tools given to them appropriately.
The tools include the New Child Health Card.
“All vaccines in Zimbabwe are administered by qualified health professionals to ensure safe delivery of vaccines to the targeted population,” Dr Mandlhate said.
She said WHO will carry a periodic vaccine management assessment for Zimbabwe next month to check compliance with vaccine management standards. The last two assessments were done in 2007 and 2009.