In the last decade, Maharashtra has accounted for 187 deaths as adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) with maximum cases reported from Buldhana, all of which were recorded in 2009, followed by Mumbai with 29 deaths and Gadchiroli and Pune with 22 deaths each.
The data was brought out by a Right to Information query filed by activist Chetan Kothari. Across India, of the 10,612 deaths associated with AEFI, Andhra Pradesh accounted for half (5,800) among children from 2008 to 2017. Odisha comes next with 1,087 deaths followed by Bihar with 752.
AEFI, commonly referred to as vaccine associated adverse effects, is a medical complication that arises post immunisation. It may or may not have direct relationship with vaccine administered to the child. The World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that “majority of events thought to be related to the administration of a vaccine are actually not due to the vaccine itself – many are simply coincidental events, others (particularly in developing countries) are due to human, or programme, error.”
Between 2008 till 2017, Maharashtra accounted for 187 deaths due to immunisation. The toll has remained inconsistent over the years. In 2010, 20 deaths were recorded which dipped to 10 in 2013, to 9 in 2015 and suddenly jumped to 24 in 2017. Health officials claim higher cases have been detected due to improved surveillance.
“Any death that occurs within 48 hours of vaccination is analysed. If we find more than one such case in a batch, we immediately stop the entire batch of vaccine,” said Dr Padmaja Keskar, executive health officer at Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, adding that not every death post vaccination is caused by the vaccine itself. “Deaths may occur due to reaction to vaccine, aspiration pneumonia, or if child is not fed well,” she said.
State immunisation officer Dilip Patil said any death reported after immunisation is first analysed by district AEFI committee, followed by state committee and finally by the national committee. An expert committee, including pediatricians, anaesthetists and physicians, analyses the cause behind the death of a child. “Death due to adverse effect of immunisation is very rare. It may happen in extreme cases of reaction,” said Dr Mangala Gomare, in-charge of maternity homes in BMC where routine immunisation is provided.
The RTI data indicates that deaths due to immunisation are higher in rural areas and specifically in government hospitals. In 2017, of 24 deaths in Maharashtra, 20 happened in rural regions such as Palghar, Washim, Pune, Gondia, Kolhapur, Nandurbar after children were administered vaccine in government hospitals or camps. Maximum deaths were reported from Washim with eight children reported dead due to AEFI in 2017.