PESHAWAR: The deaths of three children, who had died in Shaheen Muslim Town following administration of inactivated polio vaccine during the recently held anti-polio drive, created fear and panic among the local people.

People in the area buried two children on Monday and alleged that vaccination carried out by health workers led to their deaths. They demanded action against those responsible for the deaths of the children.

However, the health department has brushed aside the impression being created by the residents of Shaheen Muslim Town about deaths of three children.

Atif Rahman, the coordinator of Emergency Polio Centre, told a news conference that preliminary investigation suggested that two of the deaths occurred due to measles and gastroenteritis while the third one was being investigated by a committee, which would present its report within 48 hours.

The injectable vaccination has been administered to children in the high-risk union councils in Peshawar since April 23 to boost up children’s immunity against polio virus in the area. The virus has been in circulation in the area for the past five months.

The local people claimed that the three children developed complications, which led to their deaths after vaccination. However, authorities concerned said that the matter was being investigated.

Two children died last night and another on April 27. There was no indication that IPV had caused the deaths.

“The injectable vaccination, which is given to children for two years, was not administrated to one of the deceased, who happened to be one and half month old. Another child, who died at hospital, was treated for diarrhoea and gastroenteritis,” said Mr Rahman. He said that reaction from injection followed within 30 minutes while the children fell ill after hours and days.

He said that inquiry committee would investigate the deaths and would submit a report after which disciplinary action would be taken if anyone was found guilty.

Mr Rahman told Dawn that IPV was administered to children towards the end of polio eradication effort and they were committed to ensure that vaccination was conducted smoothly and the children stayed safe.

He said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which saw one polio case last year, had not recorded any case in 2018 but still risked the vaccine-preventable childhood ailment because of recent testing of positive samples from Kohat and Bannu districts recently apart from Shaheen Muslim Town, Peshawar where environmental water sample had consistently been positive.

“Even if we don’t have case but virus is looming and vaccination is the only way to protect our children against disabilities. The campaign targeting 200,000 children is being carried out by trained workers and it is a proven fact that either of polio vaccination, oral or injectable, does not cause death,” said Mr Rahman.

The local health professionals said that the area had sizeable number of refusal cases against vaccination due to misconceptions. They said that linking the deaths of children with immunisation could cause setback to the campaign.

They also said that people were in the habit of getting compensations from government for deaths caused by dengue fever and they would try to get some monetary assistance for the losses of their near and dear ones in that case too.

The health department paid Rs500, 000 for each dengue fever-related death in December last year.

The anti-vaccination efforts by vested groups also propagate that it is an agenda of anti-Muslims to render the Muslims infertile and reduce their population. But such propaganda is losing steam and perpetrators look for occasions to build their case and convince the people to refuse vaccination at the cost of the children’s lives.

The programme is run through government money, loaned from Islamic Development Bank. The amount will be paid back with interest.

Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2018