Vaccine worth $1.3m ‘goes bad’ in health ministry store

Published March 11, 2015
The vaccine enough to vaccinate 400,000 infants against five potentially deadly diseases, has spoiled in a storage at the NHS ministry.—AFP/File
The vaccine enough to vaccinate 400,000 infants against five potentially deadly diseases, has spoiled in a storage at the NHS ministry.—AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Pentavalent Vaccine worth $1.3 million, enough to vaccinate 400,000 infants against five potentially deadly diseases, has spoiled in a storage room at the National Health Services (NHS) Ministry. Three junior officials have been suspended for negligence which resulted in the temperature variation causing the vaccine to spoil.

According to an NHS Ministry official, an email sent from a fake account informed Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq that Pentavalent vaccine worth $1.3 million had spoiled in the storeroom because of variation in temperature. Copies of the email had also been sent to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Unesco and other international donors.

The senator who is the Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio received the email on February 22, from a sender posing to be Dr Rana Mehmood, National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) Manager.

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When Senator Farooq asked Dr Mehmood, in person, how the vaccine had gone bad, he responded that he did not know because he had not sent the email.

The official said the senator and Dr Mehmood decided to check the store and found out that the information in the email was correct. The Vaccine Vial Monitor (VVM) a thermochromic label on vials containing vaccines which gives a visual indication of whether the vaccine has been kept at a temperature which preserves its potency, had changed colour.

NHS Ministry officials found out that the air conditioning unit installed in the storage room had been switched off from outside the store causing the variation in temperature which spoiled the vaccine.

WHO official acting as whistleblower informed authorities in an email sent from a fake account

“NHS Ministry Secretary Ayub Sheikh immediately suspended a store keeper and a sub engineer,” the official said.

He further said that a three-member committee had begun inquiry into the matter and a WHO official confessed to the inquiry committee that he had sent the email.

The inquiry committee comprises Joint Secretary Amir Sheikh, PMRC Executive Director Huma Qureshi and Adviser Mazhar Nisar.

“This is the biggest incident of the sort to have taken place in the last 18 years and it is unfortunate that low-ranking junior officials have been made scapegoats and no action has been taken against senior officials,” he said.

Secretary Ayub Sheikh told Dawn that it was correct the vaccine had gone bad because of the variation in temperature but the inquiry committee was trying to ascertain facts.

In response to a question, Mr Sheikh said three officials had been suspended and on Tuesday the deputy director of the vaccine store had also been suspended and further action will be taken once the inquiry is complete.

“A special team has been checking each vile of vaccine in the ministry’s storage rooms for potency and after checking is complete we will be able to state the exact amount of vaccine which has gone bad.”

He said certain employees had been barred from entering the store rooms to ensure no one tampers with the records and the software, which is used to monitor and maintain the cold chain, is also being refreshed.

The secretary further said Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) has been contacted to improve the air-cooling system.

“The official who admitted to sending the email is an employee of the WHO who works at the storage room. He said he sent the email as a whistleblower,” Mr Sheikh said.

The secretary said on Wednesday (today), he will accompany Minister Saira Afzal Tarrar to the storage room and check the arrangements.

Published in Dawn March 11th , 2015

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