Better monitoring or an actual increase in vaccine related deaths in India?

In a May 31st report coming out of New Dalhi, India, being reported at The Hindu website, titled, ‘Better monitoring leading to more reporting of vaccine-related deaths’ discusses that vaccine related deaths related to Adverse Events Following Immunisation are supposedly on the rise since 2008, according to reports.

But what exactly is the cause? Is there actually an increase in vaccine related deaths taking place in India? The Centre doesn’t believe that there are, just better tracking taking place within the country.

In a statement issued in response to reports that deaths related to Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI) were on the rise since 2008, as per information obtained under the Right to Information Act, 2005, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said: “Analysis of the reported cases showed that during 2010, the reported 128 deaths could be attributed to the fact that 48 deaths were co-incidental, like death due to illnesses, causes other than vaccination, six were due to vaccine reactions, 8 were programmatic errors and in 72 cases the reason [of death] was unknown.”

The information sought under the RTI was specifically on the number of AEFI deaths reported in the country.

The last week of May, Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the Ministry would soon put in place a system that would track and verify children who are vaccinated in the country.

The States will be asked to send the data of vaccinated children along with the mother’s name, address and phone numbers so that these can be verified from a central monitoring unit in Delhi. The Ministry is also setting up a call centre for the purpose. Mr. Azad had said there was no mechanism to monitor the immunisation programme and the Centre had to go by the figures provided by States. Of the 10 random calls made to the phone numbers provided by the States, four were non-existent, he said.

However, the statement said the Ministry had significantly strengthened the surveillance mechanism during the past three years to report AEFI — in which every unusual event, including the death of a child, is picked up and investigated to establish cause. AEFI committees have been formed in all districts and training workshops for personnel organized, resulting in improved AEFI reporting.

The statement further claimed that deaths were being closely monitored, but may not necessarily be related to vaccination. Any disruption in the cold chain may affect the potency, and thereby the efficacy of the vaccine, but can hardly cause deaths. Further, in case of any contamination of vaccine to an extent that it would cause fatality, deaths of a greater magnitude would occur as one batch of vaccine is administered to many children, it explained.

In summary, the response from The Centre stated that strengthened surveillance of the Universal Immunisation Programme (UIP), the largest in the world, had resulted in greater number of vaccine-related deaths being reported across the country, not necessarily an increase in death directly caused by vaccination.

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