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Measles vaccination in Kazakhstan: safe or not?

25 february 2015, 22:57
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©REUTERS
©REUTERS

Around 500,000 people aged 15 to 19 years have received measles vaccination in Kazakhstan. With the latest campaign, doctors have registered about 120 calls with complaints about headache, numbness and temperature rise in Karaganda, Mangistau, Zhambyl, South Kazakhstan and Atyrau Oblasts. According to doctors, in most cases, sickness is not related to the vaccine and is the result of individual sensitivity together with the psychological and emotional instability common for adolescent age.

After vaccination against measles 18 out of 178 vaccinated Temirtau medical college students were hospitalized. According to media reports, about 60 teenagers in Mangistau Oblast were admitted to the hospital, seven of them still remain in the intensive care unit. In Atyrau city and Beineu village six cases of hospitalization after measles vaccination were recorded. In addition, in Zhanaozen 35 people remain hospitalized. 

Such incidents prompted the authorities in Kazakhstan to suspend the vaccination until March 2, 2015. By this time the measles vaccine will be investigated by the National Center for Examination of Medicines, Medical Devices and Medical Equipment of the Ministry of Health and Social Development.

On February 24 the Indian vaccine against measles was recognised as substandard by the East Kazakhstan Oblast authorities, Tengrinews reports citing YK-news.kz. The Health Administration of East Kazakhstan Oblast officials said that the vaccine would be replaced.

The Administration reported that there had been no complications associated with the vaccination in over 20 thousand people who received the vaccine. "There is enough vaccine left for another 60 thousand people. But the measles vaccine batch has been recognized defective, it will be replaced," said the head of the Administration Vadim Ovsyannikov.

According to the doctors, 164 residents of the Oblast contracted measles in 2015. In 2014, the number of cases was 83 people. "There is no talk of an epidemic. It is a small outbreak," Ovsyannikov assured.

On February 23 a 15-year-old girl died several days after the measles vaccination. According to the Ministry of Health, on 18 February, the girl was vaccinated against measles at a secondary school in Shymkent. On February 22 at 19:15 she was delivered to the infectious diseases department of the city hospital in a state of moderate severity. Her condition rapidly deteriorated until 2:15 of February 23 when she suffered a cardiac arrest and a respiratory arrest. Resuscitative measures failed to bring the girl back to life.

The press service of the Ministry of Health and Social Development said that preliminary results of the autopsy suggested the girl died from “Meningococcal disease of bacterial origin not associated with measles vaccination".

The same day, the Ministry of Health and Social Development sent a commission to Shymkent composed of experts of the Ministry of Health and Social Development, its main allergist-immunologist and experts of the Committee on Consumer Protection of the Ministry of National Economy of Kazakhstan. It was also noted that all the necessary biomaterial data was sent for pathomorphological and laboratory tests.

The measles vaccination may soon be resumed, nevertheless, since the Ministry traces no connection between the cases and the quality of the vaccine, but rather attributes them to psychological causes. In addition, the press service of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of Kazakhstan informed that the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the Indian measles vaccine safe.

According to the Ministry, the WHO confirmed the safety of the vaccine against measles back in 2009. It has been used successfully in the world for decades and helped prevent more than 15 million measles deaths in the world.

"The WHO conclusion agrees with the results of the initial evaluation - these cases may be unrelated to the use of the measles vaccine. There is absolutely no reason to doubt the quality or safety of the vaccine," said the head of the WHO in Kazakhstan Melita Vuinovich.

The monovalent live attenuated measles vaccine, purchased by Kazakhstan in India from State Serum Institute in India, has been used in 45 countries, including the UK, Switzerland and the Netherlands. According to WHO, symptoms such as dizziness, fainting and headaches were "reaction of anxiety about the immunization."

In Kazakhstan, the total number of complaints relative to the total number of people vaccinated amounts to 0.02%. The WTO allows this number to be as high as 15%.

"Until the investigation is completed in Mangistau Oblast, one cannot make any assumptions about the causes of the adverse events following the immunization. The government of Kazakhstan adopted a responsible decision to suspend the measles immunization campaign, which we expect to be resumed. It is important to note that in all of Kazakhstan there remains a risk of contracting measles by unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated children and young people. The aim of the vaccination campaign against measles is to reduce this risk," Vuinovich said.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstani deputies have demanded to tighten the control over vaccination of the population. At today’s sitting of the Majilis, the lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament, MPs from Nur Otan and Ak Zhol political parties spoke about the quality of the vaccine.

Ak Zhol faction deputy Meruert Kazbekova addressed the head of the government with an appeal to improve the population's awareness about the vaccinations. She said that Ak Zhol had written to the Ministry of Healthcare about the necessity to inform parents about the possible side effects of the vaccinations and that the procedure should be carried out on a voluntary basis.

“In its response, the Ministry of Health has promised to carry out a large-scale explanatory work among the population and informed that the vaccination would be conducted on a voluntary basis with written consent of the parents," Kazbekova said.

She also informed that Kazakhstan purchased one million doses of vaccine produced in India for supplementary immunization against measles.

MP Nadezhda Petukhova addressed First Vice-Premier of Kazakhstan Berdibek Saparbayev: “We are asking to be provided with information on the following issues: what measures have been taken to tackle the measles situation? How accurate is the registration of post-vaccination complications? Has there been an expert quality examination report of the vaccine used for the immunization?"

By Dinara Urazova


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