2 more babies die in Vietnam after getting reintroduced Dutch vaccine

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A child gets a shot of Quinvaxem in Hanoi. Photo by Thuy Anh

In two months since a ban slapped on a Dutch-made vaccine following the deaths of babies was lifted, at least two more children have died after getting shots, but the government has said the vaccine was not to blame.

Tran My Ngoc, a five-month-old girl from the southern province of Bac Lieu, became the latest victim November 24, dying a few hours after getting the five-in-one vaccine Quinvaxem.

She received the shot at a commune medical station with 17 other babies, and developed seizures on the way home, the family said.

Her eyes stopped moving, her mouth foamed, her body turned black and blue, and breathing became difficult.

She was rushed to the district general hospital, where she was given medicines and put on IV fluids, but sadly died.

The Ministry of Health, which sent experts to the province, said in a statement November 26 that the child had died of respiratory and cardiological decline, "possibly due to anaphylactic shock after the vaccination. It is also unclear if the baby had other conditions that caused the death."

It denied that the vaccine was responsible, saying the same batch has been used for nearly 400,000 shots nationwide since October.

Earlier Bui Quoc Nam, director of the Bac Lieu Department of Health, too had said doctors had diagnosed the cause of death as vaccination shock.

The department has sealed the batch of vaccines and taken samples for testing, and suspended the use of Quinvaxem in the province. It paid the family compensation of VND40 million (US$1,900).

Quinvaxem is given to babies in three stages starting when they are two months old to protect them from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type B.

It was temporarily banned in May after nine infants died since November last year, but was reallowed in October on the recommendation of the World Health Organization, which said tests found no problem with it.

But a three-month-old boy in the central province of Quang Tri died November 10, five days after he got his first Quinvaxem shot.

The family said he started crying uncontrollably sixteen hours after the vaccination and refused to be breastfed. He turned black and blue and was taken to the Quang Tri General Hospital.

After his death, an autopsy found pneumonia to be the cause, and the Ministry of Health issued a statement denying allegations that Quinvaxem was to blame.

In Hanoi, at least 37 babies were admitted to hospital since October after being given Quinvaxem. They had high fever, seizures, and rashes on their body.

Thankfully, all of them survived.

Of 47,000 kids who got the vaccine in Hanoi, 113 developed complications. But Nguyen Tran Hien, director of the National Extended Vaccination Program, said the rate of complications was acceptable based on WHO standards.

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Quinvaxem is pre-qualified by WHO and has been distributed in Vietnam since June 2010 for free as part of a program run by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization through UNICEF.

It was introduced globally in 2006 by the Netherlands-based Crucell and has been pushed to low-income countries since it only costs around VND77,000 (less than four US dollars) a dose, or a 10th of the price of new, safer alternatives.

Vietnam gets its Quinvaxem from South Korea and administers around 4.5 million shots to 1.5 million children every year.

Some parents prefer to pay VND500,000 ($24) per shot for their children to get shots of Pentaxim, an acellular five-in-one shot made by French drug company Sanofi Pasteur with purified antigens that are supposed to be safer than the whole-cell preparations found in the whooping cough component of Quinvaxem.

Vietnam's health officials have said following the series of deaths that the country cannot afford purified vaccines yet, but that Quinvaxem is safe enough.

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