A report has been received on 22nd March 2011 by the Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health from the Regional Epidemiologist, Puttalam that a five-month-old child had died within a few hours following a Pentavalent (DTP-HepB-Hib) vaccination. Preliminary investigations of the incident have revealed that the deceased child had been diagnosed with an incurable congenital heart disease by pediatric specialists and that the child's parents had been informed that his life span was short and that there were no remedies for the condition. However, the doctors had also informed the child's parents that the child could be immunized in accordance with the normal immunization programme for infants and children, Accordingly, the child had been administered the BCG vaccination at birth and the first dose of the pentavalent vaccine when he was 2 months old, and no adverse effects had been reported. He had been vaccinated with the second dose of the pentavalent vaccine on 22.03.2011.Children with congenital heart diseases can be successfully vaccinated on accepted national and international immunization guidelines and the World Health Organization has not recommended withholding vaccinations to such children. Scientifically, vaccinating such children is even more appropriate in relation to the vaccination of healthy children because the former can be more vulnerable to diseases against which the vaccines are provided. A comprehensive inquiry into this death is underway presently under the guidance of the Judicial Medical Officer, Chilaw.
In Sri Lanka, where the rate of infant deaths is as low as 11 per 1000 births, the absolute number of such deaths amounts to over 4000 annually. This is around 10-11 deaths daily. Accordingly, around 10-11 children die across the country due to various diseases, and such a death as this can coincide with the event of an immunization. It should be noted that more than 7 million Sri Lankan children are successfully immunized under the National Immunization Programme and more than 50,000 potential deaths from 11 deadly diseases are prevented annually. Therefore, without proper scientific investigation, one cannot immediately come to the conclusion that any death occured subsequent to a vaccination can be attributed to the vaccination. Accordingly, highlighting such an incident as a death caused by the vaccination will do great disservice to and will have a tremendously negative impact on the National Immunization Programme of Sri Lanka. Therefore, I would like to acknowledge with appreciation the sense of responsibility and professional ethical practice that I am sure your media organization and news reporting will follow in covering this news event in a way that will retain confidence of the public in the National Immunization Programme conducted by the Ministry of Health.Dr. Paba PalihawadanaChief Epidemiologist23.03.2011
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