Teenager’s death spurs vaccination questions, fears

Yesterday, 22:00 | Dariya Orlova, Kyiv Post Staff Writer
Violations in vaccine testing procedures has many pointing the blame at Ukraine’s Health Ministry

The death of a teenager from vaccination last spring is scaring Ukrainians and making them refuse immunizations. The trend is expected to increase as investigators keep uncovering violations in vaccine testing procedures, selecting people who need immunization and other bad practices. “The Health Ministry made fatal mistakes and violated laws,” said Victor Korzh, head of the parliamentary commission investigating the case.

Anton Tyshchenko, a 17-year old from Kramatorsk, died from a measles vaccine in May this year. The serum was developed in India and apparently wasn’t tested in Ukraine, according to the findings of two investigation commissions. They also found the boy did not actually need a vaccination at all because he had already been immunized twice.

Tyshchenko was vaccinated in school on May 12. A few hours later, he started feeling sick and developed a fever. He was hospitalized the same night, but died eight hours after the vaccine was injected. “There is a direct cause-effect relation between Anton Tyshchenko’s death and his vaccination for measles and rubella,” Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko said in his interview with Fakty daily last month.

Tyshchenko was vaccinated with one of the nine million doses of Indian serum provided by UNICEF as humanitarian aid to Ukraine – part of a joint immunization campaign with the Health Ministry. The campaign has been put on hold until the investigation of this case is over.

Investigators said that they suspected at least six violations in the process of immunization. Medvedko said one of them was immunizing in the spring, when children’s health is weak after the winter. Immediately after the immunization, Tyshchenko was sent to hike over five kilometers to the nearest clinic for a compulsory lung X-ray.

A parliamentary commission that conducted a parallel investigation said the serum used for Tyshchenko was not even registered or tested in Ukraine. However, 207 cases of complications have already been found, according to their reports. “There were numerous outrages during the additional vaccination campaign,” said Korzh. The vaccine itself was banned from use in India, its country of origin, and was not used in any country within the European Union, Korzh said.

WHO and UNICEF, however, insisted there was nothing wrong with the vaccine. “The measles and rubella vaccine used in Ukraine is pre-qualified by WHO and produced in accordance with the highest international standards by the Serum Institute of India, the largest producer of measles and rubella vaccine globally,” wrote Maryanna Zaichykova, a communications assistant at UNICEF Ukraine, in response to questions from the Kyiv Post. Zaichykova said that the septic shock that caused the teenager’s death was “unrelated to immunization.”

The Rada investigative committee also discovered that the scale of immunization suggested by the Health Ministry is largely overstated. The Ministry expected to apply vaccine to nine million people aged 16-29, but experts said only 20 percent of these people need the jab. “For those people who have immunity, such immunization is not only harmful and dangerous for their health, but can also cause drastic consequences,” Korzh said. Tyshchenko was one of them because he had already received measles vaccine twice in previous years.

As more gruesome details about mass vaccination come out into public light, more Ukrainians are turning away from vaccinations. Some data suggests that the number of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children has grown two or three-fold this year, and even more in Kyiv.

Vyacheslav Kostylev, head of the League of Civil Rights Protection, a non-government organization, said the number of people who ask for legal help on how to refuse vaccinating their children is growing. Ukraine’s law is contradictory: on the one hand, parents are required to present vaccination certificates for their children when they start school or kindergarten. On the other hand, the right to education is guaranteed by the Constitution and vaccination is the parents’ free choice.

Kostylev, whose kids have not been vaccinated, avoided the conflict by sending them to a private kindergarten where the vaccination rules are not so strict. He said other parents prefer simply to pay for a fake certificate to avoid headaches. “They mostly buy certificates, because it is very hard to fight [with legal mechanisms],” he said.

The Health Ministry keeps insisting the nation needs mass immunization. “Refusal to vaccinate is a threat to many people’s lives,” said Mykola Prodanchuk, deputy health minister, who signed documents allowing the Indian vaccine into Ukraine. He said the number of people who require immunization is currently high enough to cause an outbreak of measles.

WHO is also pushing to resume a mass immunization campaign in Ukraine. “The global health partners urge the government to reaffirm its commitment to the WHO strategy to eliminate measles and rubella in Europe by 2010,” its statement said.