Jan. 23: The polio vaccination drive in and around Padappai, a small town 13 km from suburban Tambram, took a beating after the death of a two-year-old child, who received OPV drops at an immunisation camp set up in a balwadi (nursery) centre. While health officials speculate that the child choked to death on the food that his mother fed him after the vaccination, hundreds of frightened parents carried their babies back to the centre for treatment.
Meanwhile, a rumour that eight babies had died after receiving the vaccine spread through the surrounding towns, provoking ferocious demonstrations outside the balwadi and Chromepet Government Hospital.
Dhanalakshmi, the 22-year-old mother of the deceased child said, “He was very dull after receiving the vaccine. I brought him home and fed him idlis and milk. I also bought him some ice cream and put him to sleep in my lap. We later discovered that he was limp, and had stopped breathing.”
She then carried the boy back to the balwadi, from where they were sent to the Chromepet General Hospital, where doctors declared the child dead. Health officers immediately stopped vaccination at the balwadi, but 185 children had already received the OPV drops by noon.
“All the other children who were vaccinated here are fine. Each vial of polio vaccine contains 15 to 18 doses, and all the other babies who received the drops from the same vial, are fine,” said K. Vanaja, joint director of immunisation for the state, after her investigation of the case. “We suspect that the child choked on the idli and ice cream that he ate. The oral polio vaccine is considered 100 per cent safe by the World Health Organisation, and no deaths have ever been reported,” she said.
However, a few other babies brought to the hospital by wailing mothers, were later taken ill with fever and fatigue, and one child was put on a drip and treated with paracetemol. “One baby came back with fever, and the others were merely tired and stressed out as their parents brought them back to the hospital in the afternoon heat,” Dr Vanaja explained.
State director of public health T. Porkaipandiyan termed the death an unfortunate coincidence. “Every year, there are 11 lakh babies born in Tamil Nadu. India’s Infant Mortality Rate is 31 per 1,000 live births, and so, we can expect at least 100 deaths of babies under five years old, every day. Such incidental deaths during the polio vaccination drive are extremely unfortunate.”