Lucknow, Aug. 21: Four babies died today in Uttar Pradesh soon after they were administered vaccines for polio, measles and night blindness.
The babies were aged between three and eight months, and belonged to three villages in Mohanlalganj block, 25km from Lucknow. A fifth baby is fighting for life in hospital.
It is difficult to ascertain which vaccination had caused the deaths. Only an examination of the samples and post-mortem of the children would reveal the truth. But this is an extremely tragic and unfortunate incident, Dr A.K. Shukla, the chief medical officer, Lucknow, said.
A probe has been ordered and samples from the vaccine vials that might have poisoned the children have been collected for tests, he said. The head of the immunisation programme in Mohanlalganj, Dr K.P. Upadhya, and four women health workers have been suspended pending investigation.
Around 11am, immediately after the vaccination, my daughter Rekha Kumari began frothing at the mouth, said Kiranbala Devi, a 24-year-old mother from Rampur Khera village. Rekha was seven months old.
Eight-month-old Tania and two boys aged between three and six months are the other dead.
A total of five children had fallen ill. All five were first admitted to a primary health centre in Mohanlalganj and then they were shifted to King George Medical College in Lucknow. Four died on the way and one who is admitted to Lucknow hospital is battling for life, said Dr S.C. Ram, director general, family welfare.
Around 25 infants from four villages had assembled at the health camp in Rampur Khera, but the immunisation drive was stopped after the babies fell ill. Sources, however, said one or two other babies might have been vaccinated.
Furious villagers in Rampur Khera, Padmini Khera and Bindawa — villages dominated by Dalits and backward classes — attacked the primary health workers administering the vaccines and held three government doctors hostage. Police were sent to rescue them.
As news of the deaths of the children filtered down to the villages around 2pm, a team of three doctors who had gone there to investigate the cause of the deaths were held hostage by the villagers in the office of the local health centre, Lucknow district magistrate Anil Sagar said.
Some villagers threatened to burn them alive, the police said. By 4pm, at least 600 angry villagers had gathered. They let the doctors go after much persuasion.
We have now stopped the immunisation programme in the entire Mohanlalganj block. We have been able to pacify the villagers. A committee has been set up to find out the cause of the deaths, Dr Ram said.
The deaths will make it further difficult to convince villagers to get their children immunised in a region where vaccines, especially that for polio, are seen with suspicion. Villagers often chase away health workers giving the polio vaccine because they believe it causes impotence.
Of the three vaccines given today, two — for measles and night blindness — were injectible and the one for polio was oral.