UN halts measles vaccine campaign in Syria after 15 children die

UN halts measles vaccine campaign in Syria after 15 children die

UN halts measles vaccine campaign in Syria after 15 children die

An Iraqi Yazidi child receives a polio vaccine near Baghdad. AP Photo / Khalid Mohammed

United Nations agencies said Sept. 17 that a measles vaccination campaign in northern Syria had been halted after 15 children died following inoculations. “For as long as the facts remain unclear, the suspension of the immunization campaign in both the Idlib and Deir ez-Zor provinces is a wise step,” the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said in a statement.

The two organizations said they were “shocked and saddened to learn of the deaths of at least 15 young children” in Idlib right after being vaccinated. The deaths of the children occurred in areas where a measles immunization campaign had been under way.

“Establishing the precise cause of the children’s deaths is vital. To that end, the WHO has deployed a team of experts to provide assistance to those carrying out the investigation in Idlib, who will report back as soon as possible. The WHO is also providing advice and protocol for the investigation of adverse events following immunization,” said the statement.

The children, some just babies, all exhibited signs of “severe allergic shock” about an hour after they were given a second round of measles vaccinations in Idlib on Sept. 16, with many suffocating to death as their bodies swelled, said physician Abdullah Ajaj, who administered the vaccinations in a medical center in the town of Jarjanaz.

It was unclear what killed the children, but Ajaj said in an interview via Skype that they all exhibited the same symptoms to varying degrees. He said it was the first time he had ever seen such a reaction to vaccinations.

“There was shouting and screaming, it was hard for the parents. You get your child vaccinated and then you find your child dying, it’s very hard,” Ajaj said. There were not enough respirators in the clinic, which made the situation even worse, he added.