Pentavalent vaccine deaths prompt doctors, activists to appeal to health secretary

Five-in-one vaccine introduced in Haryana without evaluating what happened in Tamil Nadu, Kerala

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Thursday 17 January 2013

In a bid to draw the Centre's attention to the recent deaths of infants who were administered pentavalent vaccine, a group of academicians, professors and teachers of public health and paediatricians have written a letter to the health secretary, asking him to take necessary action to protect lives.

They informed the secretary that three infants had died in the past three weeks in Kerala after receiving the vaccine. One baby died in Harayana this week.

Pentavalent vaccine was introduced in Kerala and Tamil Nadu on the recommendation of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI). There were concerns about the safety of the vaccine, and therefore, NTAGI mandated it was to be introduced in the immunization programme in just two states (Tamil Nadu and Kerala) to monitor the vaccine’s safety.

The letter cites the minutes of the NTAGI meeting, which says data has to be reviewed after one year of introduction, before expanding the vaccine to other states. However, well before data from Kerala and Tamil Nadu had been analysed, the vaccine has been introduced in Harayana as well, the letter states. Last year, the Mission Steering Group of the National Rural Health Mission has approved the inclusion of pentavalent vaccine under the Universal Immunisation Programme in five states besides Kerala and Tamil Nadu. But states other than Haryana are yet to introduce the vaccine.

In November, there were three deaths in Vietnam and this led to the programme being stopped immediately in the country. Similar deaths have occurred in Sri Lanka and Bhutan and Pakistan after the use of pentavalent vaccine. When each death is seen in isolation, it is reasonable to consider them as mere coincidences – but that is not acceptable when it happens repeatedly, the letter states.

They appealed to look at all these seemingly isolated instances of deaths after Pentavalent vaccine in a comprehensive manner, to see the underlying pattern and act if needed, to protect lives.

Pentavalent vaccine, which has replaced DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) vaccine and combines H influenza B and Hepatitis-B with the older trivalent vaccine, is mired in controversy with health experts continuously raising questions of its relevance in India.

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