At least 15 children have died in South Sudan in a botched measles vaccination campaign. The botched campaign even involved people as young as 12 years old administering vaccines, according to reports.
The World Health Organization (WHO) published a statement on Thursday claiming that an investigation was conducted to assess what caused the death of 15 kids in rural and remote Nachodokopele village, Kauto County in South Sudan.
The investigation was led by the National Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) Committee and supported by the WHO and UNICEF Vaccine safety experts, who concluded that severe sepsis or toxicity resulting from the administration of a contaminated vaccine was responsible for the deaths.
Contaminated measles vaccines led to the death of 15 young children
South Sudan’s health minister, Riek Gai Kok, said the deaths occurred in the Nachodokopele village, located in Eastern Equatoria state, where over 300 children aged up to five years old received vaccines from May 2 to May 5.
“The team that vaccinated the children is this tragic event were neither qualified nor trained for the immunization campaign,” said Kok, according to Al Jazeera.
The minister, along with the WHO and UNICEF expressed their deepest regret and sadness at the passing of the children and said the event could have been prevented by adhering to WHO immunization safety standards.
The AEFI Committee presented a report to South Sudan’s Ministry of Health, in which they said that the people who vaccinated the children in this tragic event were not qualified or trained to do so. The evidence gathered by the investigators indicated that the vaccination team did not follow the WHO-approved immunization safety standards.
The report showed that a single reconstitution syringe was used to vaccinate multiple people for the entire four days of the campaign instead of being discarded after single use. The constant use of the reconstitution syringe caused it to become contaminated, which in return contaminated every measles vaccine vials and resulted in the death of 15 vaccinated children.
The investigators also found that the vaccination team did not follow the cold chain protocols as specified in the Measles Supplementary Immunization Activities guidelines. The vaccines they used to “immunize” people were stored in a building with no cold chain facilities for over four days. Meaning, the vaccines were not kept at the recommended temperature ranges to preserve their quality, which could have also helped with the contamination of the vaccines.
Vaccination team had been trained by developmental partners including the WHO
About 300 people were vaccinated in the campaign, and reports showed that 32 other children suffered similar symptoms of vomiting, fever, and diarrhea but thankfully recovered. The team responsible for contaminating the vaccines had been trained by development partners, including the World Health Organization.
The vaccines used in the campaign were supplied by UNICEF, the United Nations agency which provides developmental and humanitarian assistance to children and mothers in developing countries.
“We have to look into why the training was not passed onto the teams on the ground,” said Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesperson, according to Al Jazeera.
The WHO announced that South Sudan’s Ministry of Health had commissioned a multiagency administrative committee to review the AEFI report as well as give appropriate recommendations for further actions to improve immunization service delivery.
The WHO said again that vaccination is one of the most basic and critical health needs in emergencies to prevent diseases and to protect populations from the risk of contracting deadly but preventable diseases.
South Sudan faces measles and cholera outbreaks and a countrywide famine
The statement issued by the WHO also said the risk of measles and other Vaccine Preventable Diseases in South Sudan remains extremely high, due to the challenges currently being faced by the country’s health system. South Sudan has experienced significant measles outbreaks in unprotected locations in the past years, which has been mostly caused by a backlog of unvaccinated children in areas of insecurity.
Last year, South Sudan had at least 2,294 measles cases, and 28 people died from the disease, according to UN data. This year, over 665 people have been infected with measles, and one person died.
Measles is another problem currently wreaking havoc in the East African country, which has already been devastated by over three years of civil war, a recently declared famine, and a cholera outbreak.
The WHO stressed that the measles vaccine had been used all over the world to immunize over 2 billion children against measles. When the vaccine is administered following WHO-approved immunization safety standards, the measles vaccine is perfectly safe and efficient. In South Sudan, this was the fifth follow-up vaccination campaign, and the WHO noted that the past campaigns were successfully implemented and the safety of the vaccine was guaranteed.
Source: World Health Organization