Sabotage Suspected As Dozens Of Children Die From Vaccination

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( — September 17, 2014)  — The Syrian interim government’s health ministry has demanded a halt to the second round of the measles vaccination campaign, which began Monday, in the Idlib countryside.

The program was suspended amid rumours of sabotage surrounding the high-profile international effort to ensure the civil war does not result in an outbreak of measles.

Doctors in clinics in the towns of Jirjanaz and Maaret al-Nouman in the north-eastern province of Idlib said children started falling ill soon after the doses were administered.

Relief organizations just over the border in Turkey said the loss of life was extensive, rising as high as 36, with more than a dozen other children in a serious condition.

“It’s very bad and we think it will get worse.” said Daher Zidan, the coordinator of the medical charity, UOSSM.

The Syrian opposition coalition, which controls the area of Idlib province and had been administering the program, said it had halted the immunization project.

Medical experts said a contaminated batch of the vaccine was the most likely explanation for the incident.

The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the vaccination drive to ensure 1.6 million children were granted protection from measles this northern summer.

The organization said it was checking the reports and could not confirm the number of casualties.

Many sympathizers of the opposition circulated images of the dying children on social media sites with suggestions the vaccine had been adulterated with cyanide, possibly by regime agents.

“This looks like a deliberate attempt to spike the vaccines,” said Mohammad Mowas, a Syrian doctor working in Turkey. The reported symptoms were a gradual slowdown in the heart rate as the infants turned blue, which is consistent with cyanide poisoning.

Fears that the number of casualties could rise further circulated in the exile medical community.

Each bottle of the vaccine contains 40 doses and medics believe two bottles were suspect.

Idlib is one of the few strongholds of the Western-backed rebel movement, which has largely been eclipsed by the Islamic State or al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in non-regime-held parts of Syria.