Hundreds of children sick amid polio vaccine rumours

23 Apr 2019


PESHAWAR: Children under treatment at the Lady Reading Hospital on Monday.—Shahbaz Butt / White Star
PESHAWAR: Children under treatment at the Lady Reading Hospital on Monday.—Shahbaz Butt / White Star

PESHAWAR: Panic and fear prevailed in Peshawar on Monday as hundreds of children were hospitalised allegedly after being given polio vaccinations.

Angry residents reacted by setting fire to a basic health unit and held polio workers hostage for some time. Official authorities said the media had blown the issue up out of all proportion as it was nothing but rumours.

Hospitals initially received terrified children from Badbher area complaining of nausea and abdominal pain. Nearly 300 visited the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). Most were released after treatment, health workers said. The doctors at LRH said it was psychological whatever it was that was impacting the children. In Charsadda 800 children were hospitalised.

Nevertheless, rumours such as some children had died because of polio vaccines spread like wildfire in the city as children continued visiting hospitals till late with mosques adding further grist to the rumour mills by announcing intermittently with their loudspeakers to not get children vaccinated and if those who had then they must reach hospitals to avoid a reaction.

Chief Police Officer Qazi Jalilur Rehman said enraged people attacked a basic health unit upon hearing these rumours. He further said the issue of alleged reaction from polio vaccines emerged from one school.

Prime Minister’s Focal Person Babar Bin Atta said action would be taken against those who created the rumours to damage the polio vaccination campaign. “Panic was created to jeopardise polio vaccination as part of a campaign and to put our children at risk of diseases. It is a criminal act and perpetrators will be held accountable. There were no instances of diarrhoea or skin rashes on affected children.”

He pledged that the vaccination drive would continue till polio was completely eradicated from the country. “The WHO-appro­ved OPV used for eradication of poliovirus worldwide is safe for children and parents must have it administered to their children.”

KP health minister Dr Hisham Inamullah Khan in a press conference said preliminary investigation revealed there was no issue of the expiry of vaccines. “We are also investigating a batch of vaccines which we procured from an Indonesia-based manufacturing firm. The matter was blown by media out of proportions which swelled to a big crisis but in reality there is nothing to worry as all the children are safe.”

The Emergency Operation Centre of KP has formed a committee under the additional deputy commissioner to investigate the issue and submit its findings in 48 hours.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019