A recently rolled out countrywide Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination campaign in Lesotho has become a national disaster, with hundreds of immunised children returned to health centres with extreme side-effects and full blown measles symptoms.
The MMR vaccine protects children against the three diseases, measles, mumps and rubella and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends children get two of its doses starting with the first dose at 12 months through 15 months of age; the second dose can be taken at 4 through 6 years of age.
The vaccine contains live viruses that have been weakened so that they stimulate the immune system, but do not cause disease in healthy people.
In a brief statement issued on Wednesday after a public outcry, the health ministry said they were aware of several cases presented at different health centres which parents associated with the MMR vaccination.If the cases will be found to have adverse effects following immunisation, the health ministry said, the whole system will be reviewed and action will be taken accordingly.
“The ministry is taking the matter very seriously and the World Health Organisation and other international organisations have been informed,” the statement continued. “Surveillance teams are already out in the field following up reported cases right up to the household.”
The ministry said during the ill-fated campaign children were given deworming tablets and vitamin A together with the MMR vaccine, indicating these were procured only at manufacturing companies that have been critically assessed by the WHO.
They conceded, however, that cases reported and pictures of children presented to them suggested the presence of intestinal worms, and that “…the recent study conducted showed more than 50 percent of children in most areas had worms.”
Media outlets in the capital Maseru have since Wednesday been inundated with calls from concerned parents seeking advice on the outbreak and reports of ailing children continue to rise; African Independent observed some children described as showing a mild form of measles – including rash, high temperature, loss of appetite and a general feeling of being unwell. Other children, according to parents, carried temporary pain and stiffness in the joints.
The health ministry is expected to give an official statement on the outbreak later on Thursday.