SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) – Spoiled or possibly sabotaged measles vaccine has killed as many as 50 children in insurgent-held areas of northwestern Syria, forcing a suspension of a large-scale vaccination campaign intended to stop the spread of measles, mumps, rubella and polio, volunteer medical organizations reported on Wednesday.
The victims, some of them just infants, apparently all died on Tuesday, mostly concentrated in the cities of Jarjanaz and Sinjar in Idlib Province, an area controlled by forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. These opposition forces have sought to function as an interim government and provide basic health care services, including inoculations and vaccinations to children, given the collapse of Syria’s public health care system since the civil war began more than three years ago.
Dozens of other children in Idlib were reported to have been sickened by the vaccine. Dr. Abdulla Ajaj, a physician who helped administer the vaccine, said the suspect batch of doses had been received three days before they were used. “This is the first time we have had such a problem,” he said in a Skype interview.
The provenance of the vaccine was not immediately clear, but Dr. Ajaj speculated that the doses may have been stored at improperly high temperatures. “Most probably they were badly kept inside the fridges,” he said.
The Syrian American Medical Society, which organizes medical missions to Syria and runs a hospital in Idlib, said recipients of the bad vaccine began displaying symptoms within minutes, including tightness of breath, slowed heart rate, wheezing and inflammation of the larynx. The group’s own facility saw at least 65 patients, it said in a statement, and 15 were already dead upon arrival, all under the age of 1.
The statement said the reason the medicines turned deadly were unclear, “though local staff speculate that the vaccinations may have been compromised by the storage location in Jarjanaz or potential tampering with the vaccinations.”
Physicians for Human Rights, a New York-based organization that has liaisons in opposition-controlled areas of northwest Syria, distributed an internal email saying that as many as 50 children may have died from the vaccine, which appeared to have been either spoiled or outdated, and that samples had been sent to Turkey for analysis.
Video footage uploaded on YouTube showed an apparently lifeless girl in an orange shirt and turquoise pants not responding to a medic’s attempts to revive her through mouth-to-mouth and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The interim government posted a statement on its website that it had suspended the vaccination campaign and was investigating “in order to learn the truth behind this humanitarian disaster.”
The vaccination campaign is part of a broader campaign by the United Nations to ensure that 1.6 million children are vaccinated in Syria against childhood scourges that have reappeared in the country since the war began.
Polio, a crippling viral disease thought to have been long eradicated in Syria, made a comeback a year ago in an insurgent-held area of the eastern part of the country.