RAWALPINDI, June 15: Despite being vaccinated against measles, several children arriving at the city’s government hospitals have tested positive for the disease, causing worry among parents.
Of all the measles cases reported at the Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) and the Holy Family Hospital, almost half had never been administered the vaccines and most had missed the first dose of vaccination administered in the first nine months after birth.
However, while interacting with parents of the children at both hospitals, Dawn has learnt that half the measles patients had already been immunised.
“My child, Rehan, is five years old and has never missed a single dose of the measles vaccination,” said Mrs Rizwana Ahmed, a resident of Kuri Road.
She said her neighbours’ children had been infected with the disease two weeks ago, but her child had no direct contact with them.
“My child was suffering from fever and soar throat. When small dots appeared on his face and body, I brought him to the hospital where doctors diagnosed him with measles,” she said.
Mohammad Ali of Dhoke Ratta told Dawn that his four-year-old child had been vaccinated when he was nine months old and again when he was 15 months old. “I don’t know how he got infected but the old perception is that measles can appear once in the life at any time,” he said.
Farida Bibi, the mother of a three-year-old boy came from Adiala Road to the Holy Family Hospital. She said her child had completed the course of all diseases including polio and measles.
“Apparently, my child was infected with measles from the hospital. I had arrived here to get treated for high fever, and doctors had advised me to stay at the hospital for two days. My child developed the symptoms the very next day,” she said.
At the Benazir Bhutto Hospital, an eight-year-old girl was admitted for having measles, which shows the disease has spread through out the city and government departments need to contain the disease immediately.
Unfortunately, no arrangements to deal with measles were made at the District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital, and doctors referred such cases to HFH and BBH.
“There is no children’s ward in the DHQ hospital and most cases of measles come to BBH and HFH,” said Dr Javed Hayat, Incharge Infectious Diseases Rawalpindi Medical College, while talking to Dawn.
He said most parents failed to immunise their children against measles. “There are two doses of measles vaccination: one at the age of nine months and the second at the age of 15 months. One dose is not effective, and it is a misperception that a vaccination at the age of nine months is enough,” he said.
“For the last one and a half year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended two doses for measles,” he said.
On the other, doctors say improper storage reduces the efficacy of the vaccines, leaving even the immunised children vulnerable to the contagious disease.
Dr Mohammad Haroon, who is working with the Pakistan Medical Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims), said the hospitals and basic health units did not pay heed to the proper storage of vaccines.
“According to the medical literature, 20 per cent of vaccinated children fail to develop immunity from the first dose, which means if only 80 per cent are fully immunised, an outbreak is likely. Furthermore, vaccine storage requires a temperature of 4-8 degree Celsius, which is not being provided due to the massive loadshedding. The vaccine decays at over 15 degree Celsius,” he said.
Dr Javed Hayat agreed with this but said the storage of vaccination at government hospitals was better than in private ones. He said the health department had visited the HFH on Saturday and had found the storage satisfactory.
BBH Medical Superintendent Dr. Asif Qadir Mir said people were unaware of the two doses of measles which resulted in the spread of the disease.
However, he said cases of measles had also appeared in the United Kingdom and the United States, where vaccination coverage was approximately 100 per cent.
He said doctors at BBH had been advised to start administering measles vaccine to children aged between two and 14 years. “All patients between the ages of two years and 14 years will be immunised for measles as a precautionary measure,” he said.