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The Ministry of Health has launched an investigation into the deaths of three infants that received a Hepatitis B vaccine at Bago General Hospital.
On 7 March, fourteen newborns at the hospital became unwell, with one suffering from respiratory distress syndrome and the remaining 13 experiencing bouts of fits. Hospital staff discovered that of the children born between 4 – 7 March, a total of 28 received the same Hepatitis B vaccine, bought from a private pharmacy inside the hospital.
The discovery prompted the hospital to follow up with an additional 14 infants that had received the vaccine and subsequently been discharged. Of those, two had passed away, the remaining 12 were transferred back to Bago hospital for monitoring.
Tragically, one of the babies returned to the hospital on 7 March died later in the day. Another four fell into a critical condition and were moved to the Yankhin Children’s Hospital on 9 March.
On 11 March, state-run media the Global New Light of Myanmar reported an investigative team led by the Department of Public Health’s director-general Dr Htay Aung was scrutinising the possible link between the death of the three children and the vaccine.
The team stressed that the vaccination provided to the infants was not associated with the health ministry’s immunisation programme, and are researching the authenticity of the vaccine batch to confirm whether it was legally imported and registered.
The challenge to decrease Hepatitis B fatalities has been in the government’s sights since it rolled out the ‘Expanded programme on immunisation’ in 1978 in 104 townships. The programme was furtherstrengthened when the government partnered with UNICEF and WHO in 2012, implementing the ‘Reaching Every Community (REC) strategy in hard-to-reach areas to provide two new vaccines-Hemophiliacs influenzae b (Hib) vaccine and Hepatitis B.
Despite these efforts, nearly 3.3 million people in Burma suffer from Hepatitis B -according to a nationwide survey in 2015. The majority of these people affected are thought to be living in rural areas with limited health infrastructure.