Cookie policy: This site uses cookies (small files stored on your computer) to simplify and improve your experience of this website. Cookies are small text files stored on the device you are using to access this website. For more information please take a look at our terms and conditions. Some parts of the site may not work properly if you choose not to accept cookies.


Subscribe or Register

Existing user? Login

Vaccine safety

Measles vaccine suspected of adulteration linked to the deaths of 15 children in Syria

A court in Syria is to investigate whether the deaths of children under two years of age was a case of inadvertent error or a criminal act.

Muscle relaxant Atracurium is thought to cause of deaths link to polio vaccination programme in Syria

Source: AP / Press Association Images

Muscle relaxant atracurium is linked to deaths in measles vaccination programme in Syria

At least 15 children have died in Syria during a measles vaccination programme after a muscle relaxant, atracurium, was believed to have been added to the vaccine instead of diluents. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is helping confirm the exact cause of the deaths but a spokesperson said that it doesn’t seem as though there was anything wrong with the vaccine batch itself but it was “mishandled on the ground”. The vaccine must be diluted prior to use. 

The matter has been passed on to a local court in Syria to establish whether the incident was a case of inadvertent error or a criminal act. The local nongovernmental organisation Measles Control Task Force (MCTF), which was leading the vaccination programme, says it will continue to pursue an inquiry into the matter and prosecute any individuals if they are found to have been negligent. MCTF’s programme had been aided by WHO and Unicef. 

Some 20,000 children were vaccinated in the northern province of Idlib when the campaign began on 15 September 2014, but it was cancelled the following day when the first deaths were reported. 

Vaccination is performed by local health facilities in the area and the MCTF has visited the hospital at the centre of the deaths. In a statement, it says that there was a “great resemblance” between a vial of vaccine solvent and atracurium. 

Atracurium is often used prior to surgery with its dose determined by weight. Younger children are more severely affected by the medicine due to their small size. All of the children who died were less than two years old, while the 50 older children who were affected have recovered, a WHO spokesperson said. 

In a joint statement with Unicef, WHO says it is vital that immunisation efforts in Syria resume as quickly as possible. But before this can occur, the exact cause of the deaths will need to be confirmed and families and communities reassured that the vaccine is safe, WHO adds. 

Measles is a particular threat to children who have been displaced from their homes and who are living in refugee camps or insanitary conditions, says WHO. More than 5 million children have been left in need of basic humanitarian support after four years of fighting in Syria.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066521

Have your say

For commenting, please login or register as a user and agree to our Community Guidelines. You will be re-directed back to this page where you will have the ability to comment.

Recommended from Pharmaceutical Press

  • Disease Management

    Disease Management

    Disease Management covers the diseases commonly encountered in primary care by system, with common therapeutic issues. Includes case studies and self-assessment sections.

    £54.00Buy now
  • Developing Your Prescribing Skills

    Developing Your Prescribing Skills

    Developing Your Prescribing Skills uses case studies, mind maps and feedback from experienced prescribers. It supplies practical advice on the issues facing prescribers in all types of practice.

    £23.00Buy now
  • Workplace Drug Testing

    Workplace Drug Testing

    Explains drug testing regulatory frameworks and all aspects of drug analysis. Case studies of successful programmes are included.

    £81.00Buy now
  • Social and Cognitive Pharmacy

    Social and Cognitive Pharmacy

    Social and Cognitive Pharmacy is a practical handbook for learning and teaching sociology and psychology, and applying this to pharmacy practice.

    £33.00Buy now
  • Clinical Pharmacokinetics

    Clinical Pharmacokinetics

    A practical guide to the use of pharmacokinetic principles in clinical practice. Includes case studies with questions and answers.

    £33.00Buy now

Search an extensive range of the world’s most trusted resources

Powered by MedicinesComplete
  • Print
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Save
  • Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

Supplementary images

  • Muscle relaxant Atracurium is thought to cause of deaths link to polio vaccination programme in Syria

Jobs you might like

Newsletter Sign-up

Want to keep up with the latest news, comment and CPD articles in pharmacy and science? Subscribe to our free alerts.