Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva said yesterday that Sri Lanka could not afford to give up rubella vaccination – a part of the National Immunization Programme (NIP) – merely because two children had died of the more than one million who had been vaccinated this year.
Addressing a media briefing, Minister De Silva stressed that the NIP had been able to build a healthy nation and protected many generations from many communicable and non-communicable diseases.
Commenting on the process of the registration, quality assurance, importation and administration of vaccines and drugs, he said every stage was monitored and regularised in accordance with WHO specifications.
“Rubella vaccination was incorporated into the NIP in 1996, on the instructions of the WHO, and after a field survey had been conducted by the ministry. There had been 169 cases of ‘Congenital Rubella Syndrome’ (children born with acute birth defects such as a hole in the heart and deformities) in the 1994, 1995 period alone, and there was a possibility that the number would increase,” he said.
The recommendation for rubella vaccination was also made by a team of eminent persons, comprising professors of medicine, top epidemiologists and pharmacologists.
Before a drug or a vaccine is imported it is subjected to a rigid quality assurance procedure by an independent body of highly qualified professionals. The manufacturer must be a registered supplier under the WHO.
When the tender was called for rubella vaccines, only the present supplier Serum Institute of India applied, and the company met all the specifications, said Mr. De Silva.
WHO Country Representative, Dr. Pirdosi Rustrum Mehta said the Indian manufacturer supplied rubella vaccine to a dozen countries besides Sri Lanka.
He maintained that the reason India did not use the vaccine was there was no free medical system in India as there was in Sri Lanka.
Banned rubella vaccine given here: UNP
By Yohan Perera
Taking a shot at the heightened rubella vaccine crisis resulting from the death of another innocent school girl, the main opposition UNP yesterday questioned why a particular Indian brand of the serum not even used in India was imported to Sri Lanka for the vaccination programme.
Senior UNPer Renuka Herath who once served as Health Minister told a news conference that this particular brand was used in some poor African countries including Somalia.
“This brand has been banned in India though it is manufactured there and is only allowed for export. It is the lure for commissions that has prompted Health Ministry officials to import this brand of vaccine which has unfortunately led to a young student losing her life,” she alleged.
Ms. Herath said medicines being imported were first decided by a special committee appointed by the Health Minister and therefore he too should take the responsibility for importing sub standard vaccines.
She charged that the vaccine had not been stored in a suitable environment under ideal temperatures required to keep them safe and that this had happened especially when transporting vaccines to outstation hospitals.
With regard to a statement made by Health Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva that the opposition should not criticize the government before it received the inquiry report on the incident, Ms. Herath said six months was a long time for the minister to wait for a report.
She recalled that six months ago another girl in Matara died after being vaccinated against Rubella, and pointed out that a proper inquiry should have been carried out at that time.
Ms. Herath said the Health Ministry should take serious note on the spread of AHINI virus among school children as a situation of this nature had never happened earlier.
Meanwhile the UNP parliamentary group has decided to make statements on the death of a schoolgirl following vaccination against rubella, and on the issues involved in the GSP+ facility, in parliament this week.