WHO deems vaccine in Vietnam safe despite 7 deaths in 2 months

TN News

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Vietnam health authorities Wednesday said the World Health Organization (WHO) has stood by the safety of Quinvaxem pentavalent vaccine in Vietnam which was believed to have possibly caused the deaths of seven babies.

Nguyen Van Binh, head of the Health Ministry's Preventive Health Department, cited the WHO's response as saying that all their studies of the vaccine made in South Korea affirm its safety, Tuoi Tre reported.

Quinvaxem, listed as a prequalified medicine by the WHO, has been distributed in Vietnam since June 2010 as part of a program run by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization through the nonprofit organization UNICEF. The liquid drug purports to immunize children against five diseases diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis or whooping cough, hepatitis B, and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b).

At least seven babies between two and three months old have died after receiving the vaccine since November.

Three of them were from the central province of Nghe An; one was from nearby Thanh Hoa; and one came from the Central Highlands' Lam Dong Province. The two most recent cases were reported in Hanoi and the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang on January 5. One boy in Ho Chi Minh City also died last October.

All victims suffered from various symptoms including fevers, vomiting and the appearance of bruises all over their bodies.

On December 25, three two-month old babies in the south central province of Binh Dinh had to be rushed to hospital hours after receiving Quinvaxem shots that morning. They were admitted with high fevers, bruise marks and convulsions, but were luckier, and survived.

Local authorities suspended all the controversial batches for testing, while the Health Ministry said there are no problems with the vaccine's quality, its distribution, preservation, or administering.

But Binh said to make sure, the ministry is going to send samples from the suspect batches to an independent laboratory in the Netherlands. The vaccine was introduced globally in 2006 by the Netherlands-based biopharmaceutical company Crucell.

Pharmaceutical companies have pushed the vaccine to "low-income" countries.

It costs around VND77,000 (less than four US dollars) a dose, while new alternatives produced in the US and Belgium cost ten times more.

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