WHO expert goes to bat for Quinvaxem even as Vietnam reports more deaths

By Lien Chau, Thanh Nien News

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A woman holds her baby for a Quinvaxem shot in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nguyen Mi A woman holds her baby for a Quinvaxem shot in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nguyen Mi


The World Health Organization has once again attested to the safety of Quinvaxem amid a public scare in Vietnam following continuing infant deaths.
Kohei Toda, a WHO vaccination expert, told the media Tuesday that the 5-in-1 drug is a safe and effective vaccine at a reasonable price, and parents should not be scared to use it to immunize their children.
Quinvaxem is a WHO prequalified drug distributed by Berna Biotech Korea Corp., and is much cheaper than alternatives.
Since June 2010 around 25 million shots have been administered in the country for free under a national immunization program to protect children aged two months upward against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenza type B.
Vietnam suspended the vaccine in May 2013 after nine infants died between November 2012 and March 2013, but WHO urged the country to lift the ban in October 2013 after investigations found the deaths were not related to Quinvaxem.
WHO held the press briefing Tuesday following media reports that at least nine more babies have died since the vaccine was brought back, including two of anaphylactic shock last month.
Toda said his organization has looked into all the complications and found that most of the deaths occurred due to the babies’ physical condition.
He said the rate of deaths following the vaccination in Vietnam this year has not increased from past years while the rate of complications is 4.5 per million shots, much lower than the accepted rate of 20.
Quinvaxem uses whole-cell preparations in its whooping cough component while more expensive alternatives, like Pentaxim made by French company Sanofi Pasteur, use purified antigens which are considered safer.
But Toda said the WHO still recommends the use of whole-cell antigen component for stronger immunization.
He said 131 countries worldwide use vaccines with whole-cell preparations of the whooping cough component.
Quinvaxem itself is used widely in 94 countries including Thailand, the Philippines, Cambodia, and Laos in Southeast Asia.
WHO would continue to provide Vietnam necessary technical support to guarantee safe administration of the vaccine, he said.
Many parents said they do not feel safe giving their babies Quinvaxem shots after the reports of the deaths.
With the limited supply of the expensive alternatives, people have had to constantly call medical facilities or pay extra money to book them, while some decide to take their babies overseas for vaccinations and others decide not to immunize their children at all.

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