Child deaths spark vaccine suspension

A
Japanese safety panel is examining whether two vaccines widely used around the
world contributed to the deaths of five children in the past month.

Japan’s
health ministry ordered doctors to stop immunizing infants with the vaccines
while authorities investigate Pfizer’s Prevenar vaccine and Sanofi Pasteur’s
ActHIB vaccine — commonly given to infants in the United States and other
developed nations.

The
health ministry said it suspended the vaccines because the children all died
within a short period of time; four died last week and one died in February.

Three
of the infants had underlying medical conditions, the health ministry said.
Authorities are investigating the medical history of one of the children, and
the fifth child had no apparent illness at the time of vaccination, according
to the ministry.

Both
companies maintain that their vaccines — which are aimed at stopping bacteria
that can cause meningitis, pneumonia and other serious infections — are safe.

The
World Health Organization has backed the inclusion of Prevenar in national
childhood immunization programs, especially in developing nations where infant
mortality remains high.

Pfizer
estimates it has distributed more than 360 million doses of the vaccine, which
is available in more than 100 countries around the world and part of the
routine childhood immunization schedule in more than 50 countries. In Japan, 2
million doses have been administered.

The
U.S. Food and Drug administration said it was aware of the suspensions in Japan,
but “physicians assessing vaccine safety at the FDA and CDC have not
detected new safety concerns” related to the vaccines.

 

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