Vaccinations in East Africa: Effective or Evil?

14 Aug

 

Amuru District, Northern Uganda- On August 8, 2012, 50 pupils at Kaladima Primary School, Lamogi collapsed on the second day of an immunization program to prevent River Blindness. According to the District Health Officer, Dr. Patrick Okello Olvedo the teachers had administered the drug, Praziquanthel to the children before they had eaten. Apparently this drug can cause dizziness and fainting when taken on an empty stomach. On the first day the children received two other drugs and on the second two more. It was on the second day that they took the drug Praziquanthel which has been identified as the cause of the problem. This school vaccination program is part of a mass immunization program launched by President Museveni of Uganda to combat the disease River Blindness, a parasitic infection carried by the Black Fly which he believes is somehow causing the mysterious Nodding Disease in children. Nodding Disease has already infected around 7,000 children and a few adults in Northern Uganda. The Acholi Elders of Amuru district are concerned about this vaccination initiative and have accused the government of carelessly embarking on its course of action without a proper investigation into the vaccines that are being used in the program or a knowledgeable plan.

This alarming headline from the Acholi Times made me sit up and take notice last week. Was another vaccination scandal about to take place in northern Uganda just like it has occurred around the world many times before? And is Museveni trying to connect Nodding Disease to River Blindness because it is a simple solution to a much more complicated problem?

In 2001, John Le Carre, a British novelist published a novel, The Constant Gardener about a English diplomat whose wife is murdered because she discovers that a pharmaceutical company has tested a new tuberculosis drug on AIDS patients without informing them. It is eventually found that this new drug has had deadly side effects but the company decides to cover up what it has done and chooses not to help the people whose lives it has knowingly destroyed. Le Carre chose to locate his novel in the country of Kenya, East Africa but the real story was based on an American pharmaceutical company that conducted its own unethical trial in Kano State, Nigeria. According to Le Carre the actual incident was far crueler than his story.

In 1996 in Kano State, Nigeria the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer conducted a test of its new drug, Trovan during a meningitis outbreak that was already killing children in the area. Trovan is a broad spectrum antibiotic that had yet to be tested on real people. In the trial one hundred children were administered the new drug Trovan, and one hundred more were given the drug Chloramphenicol, which had been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). Out of the entire group of 200 children, eleven deaths were attributed to taking the drug Trovan and low dosages of Chloramphenicol but the survivors suffered irreparable side effects and permanent injuries such as paralysis, deafness, blindness, brain damage, liver damage, and joint disease from ingesting Trovan in the dosages prescribed by the company. In 1997 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA, 2000) approved Trovan for use with adults but by 1999 after becoming aware of a range of harmful side effects decided to severely restrict its use with all patients. Europe banned any and all use of the drug Trovan within its borders.

By 2000 a Nigerian report was published that exposed Pfizer’s poorly conducted trial and the host of side effects suffered by the young patients who had survived the Meningitis outbreak and the drug Trovan. There were demonstrations and demands for justice for the victims all over Nigeria. In 2001 thirty families sued Pfizer in a group action suit. And in 2007 both the Government of Nigeria and Kano State Municipal Government filed separate law suits and sued for damages. In February 2009, The Pfizer Pharmaceutical Company settled with all parties for a reported 45 million dollars US.

In 2003 the World Health Organization attempted to conduct a polio vaccination program in Nigeria. People there had not forgotten about the last disastrous drug trial conducted by an American Drug company in Kano State and were suspicious of any medicines from the United States of America. Tempers flared and ugly demonstrations broke out on the streets. The Nigerian government halted the WHO Polio Vaccination Program after Nigerians refused to come into the clinics for these polio vaccinations or bring their children, boycotting the WHO’s initiative. The Nigerian government only resumed the program when a polio vaccine was brought in from Indonesia which is a Muslim country and many of the affected families in Nigeria and in Kano State were Muslims. The people found this vaccine acceptable after their Muslim leaders approved it and the WHO Polio Vaccination Program in Nigeria resumed.

In 2010, The Finnish National Institute for Health (THL) proposed suspending vaccinations for H1N1 swine flu, due to suspected links to increased narcolepsy in children and adolescents. This was in response to six cases of narcolepsy, a chronic disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and extreme fatigue. All of these patients were reported to have been given the H1N1vaccine containing the adjuvant, Pandemrix. According to Webster’ Dictionary – an “adjuvant” is an agent that may stimulate the immune system and increase the response to a vaccine, without provoking the antibodies itself. Six cases of narcolepsy occurred immediately after these patients had been vaccinated, and nine additional cases were been reported but not yet confirmed.

In August 19th, 2010, the Medical Products Agency of Sweden initiated its own investigation for the same reason. Sweden bought 18 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, sufficient for everyone in the country to receive two injections. In Europe, about 30 million people have been vaccinated, and worldwide at least 90 million. During the winter of 2009, 29 million children in the United States were given a seasonal influenza shot that incorporated the swine flu vaccine but they did not receive the vaccine containing the adjuvant, Pandemrix- only European countries received that.

By February, 2011, a Finnish study found that the H1N1 flu vaccine may have contributed to a spike in narcolepsy cases in that country among 4-to-19-year-olds.  Sixty children and adolescents had developed narcolepsy, and 52 of them had received the flu vaccine Pandemrix.

According to Finnish officials “people who received the injection had a nine-fold increased risk of narcolepsy over those in the same age group who had not been vaccinated.” It’s not known just how many children and adolescents were vaccinated with Pandemrix. So far 12 of the 47 countries that used the vaccine containing Pandemrix, including Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Great Britain, and Ireland have reported increases in the number of individuals diagnosed with narcolepsy.

And then there is the belief that childhood vaccines could lead to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in children. Current Figures from the CDC state that 1 in 88 children have been diagnosed with ASD. This estimate is considerably higher than previous estimates from the early 1990s. I have met parents at ASD workshops who have sworn to me that their child was never the same after receiving his/her vaccines as a toddler. One vaccine ingredient that has been suspected by many is Thimerosal, which once was used as a preservative in childhood vaccines. In 2001 Thimerosal was removed or reduced to trace amounts in all childhood vaccines except for one type of influenza vaccine, and Thimerosal-free alternatives are available for influenza vaccine. Evidence from several studies claim that there is no connection between the presence of Thimerosal in a vaccine and the presence of autism. If so, then what about the Somali children now living in Minnesota?

In August 2008, the online newspaper MinnPost first reported that “12 % of kindergarten and pre-school children with autism in Minneapolis speak Somali at home, and more than 17 percent of the kids in the early childhood autism program have parents born in Somali.” The Minneapolis Star tribune published that among Somali students in the district, “3.6 % had autism – a rate of 360-per-10,000, (or 1 in 28). This is twice as high as the district’s average and more than five times the national average. “Virtually all of these children were the children of Somali refugees and born in the United States. They appear to be the most severely affected children with autism in the district: Last year, one-in-four children in the preschool class for the most severe cases was Somali.”

And what will come as no surprise -none of the refugees surveyed had ever seen or heard of a single child who displayed any of the common symptoms of autism when living in Somalia. These parents are desperate to know what is hurting their children and there is a nagging belief prevalent throughout the Somali community that it is the vaccines their children were required to receive from the community health clinics that have changed them in this way.

And just to remind you all- “A vaccine is a biological preparation usually a serum that improves immunity to a particular disease. It is often made from the weakened or killed forms of the microbe itself, its toxins, or one of its surface proteins.” This tells me that every time I am given a vaccination I receive a weak form of the actual disease itself. I remember preparing for my first visit to East Africa in 2005. Like all obedient Americans I went to the local travel clinic and submitted to all of the shots they prescribed. I had shots for Hepatitis B, Polio, Yellow Fever, Tetanus and others I can’t remember over a three month period. About four weeks later I noticed a bright red rash that started on my side and followed across my back in lines and it hurt. I didn’t know what it was and showed it to a friend who ran the Copy Center at my university. She immediately knew what it was and sent me over to Health Services, who sent me right away to my own doctor- who confirmed that I had Shingles. He fixed me up and I was over it by the time I left for Kenya in May.

Well I took the liberty of including what the CDC says about Shingles. “Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body in a dormant (inactive) state. For reasons that are not fully known, the virus can reactivate years later, causing Shingles. They went on to say that it usually happens in people over 60 years of age which was not me and then “People who have medical conditions that keep their immune systems from working properly, such as certain cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and people who receive immunosuppressive drugs, such as steroids and drugs given after organ transplantation are also at greater risk of getting shingles.”

And I knew that those many different shots all pumping weak dosages of very bad diseases into my bloodstream seriously compromised my immune system- enough so, that they caused my Shingles. Prior to this I had been in exceptionally good health and my immune system had been just fine. If the shots I received did this to me, and there is no doubt in my mind that they did,  then I believe that there is a viable chance that something inside of vaccinations can be dangerous even deadly to some people.  We all know of someone who has deadly allergies to things that the rest of eat without thought or suffer through just fine such as nuts, sea food, and bee stings. Some of us are highly allergic to medications such as codeine but didn’t know until we had health problems that required us to take these drugs. So it’s possible that there is a percentage of the world’s population that could be adversely affected by vaccines.  And I believe that there are a lot more than just a few.

I found this quote when researching about the H1N1 vaccine and narcolepsy. “According to a World Health Organization panel, genetic factors may have played a role in Finland’s Pandemrix-narcolepsy cases. WHO tested 22 narcolepsy patients and found that all had a gene commonly associated with narcolepsy. About 30% of people in Finland have that particular gene, compared with 15% in the rest of Europe,” according to Patrick Zuber, WHO’s top vaccine safety official. So could other children around the world have a gene that makes them dangerously susceptible to whatever is inside certain vaccines?

A connection between River Blindness as the cause of Nodding Disease is still inconclusive.   While in Uganda this summer I extensively researched the possibility that children in the north had been part of a vaccination trial but found no recorded evidence that some children contracted Nodding Disease after receiving vaccinations. I asked the Acholi villagers I visited and no one had heard of or taken their children to clinics to be vaccinated- they would have told me if they had. Although the Center for Disease Control suspects that there is a strong link between the parasite that causes River Blindness and the onset of Nodding Disease they’re still not sure what. There are many other children in Northern Uganda who have been diagnosed with River Blindness but have not contracted Nodding Disease. So how one becomes or leads to the other is not known at this time.  Removing the threat of River Blindness from the districts is a good thing but using vaccinations without serious consideration as to the range of possible consequences may not be the best idea. I pray that the government of Uganda takes this vaccination process more slowly and plans each move more thoughtfully than last week’s incident at the school implies; because the lives of the rest of the children in northern Uganda, not infected with Nodding Disease, may very well depend on it.

Kat Nickerson      Kingston, RI    USA

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: