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Friday, Nov. 2, 2012
Encephalitis vaccine deemed safe; no link found to deaths
By MIZUHO AOKI
A health ministry panel has concluded there is no need to stop administering the vaccination for Japanese encephalitis despite the deaths this year of two children who received the drug.
The panel reached its conclusion Wednesday after studying the circumstances of the two deaths.
A child under 9 years old died in July, seven days after getting a shot of the vaccination, and a 10-year-old boy in Gifu Prefecture died in October immediately after he was administered the drug.
They are the only deaths involving the newly developed vaccine since it was approved in 2009.
According to the health ministry, the boy in Gifu was taking three different medications for the chronic disease, two of which are considered to pose a risk of death when taken together.
The panel members concluded that the boy's death was likely to have been caused by reasons other than the vaccine. The panel said it will continue its investigations.
As for the child who died in July, whose hometown has not been released, the panel said there isn't enough data to determine a relationship between the death and the vaccination. The child developed a fever and suffered seizures two days after being given the vaccination and died about a week later, the ministry said. The cause of death is considered to be acute encephalitis, officials said.
The ministry has recognized 11 cases of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM, since 2009 when the newly developed vaccination was introduced. The figure represents 1 out of 1.31 million vaccinations, a ministry official said.
Panel member Chiaki Miyazaki, a pediatrician at Fukuoka-West Rehabilitation Center for Children, said that although winter is not the season for Japanese encephalitis, people planning to travel to other parts of Asia should receive the vaccination.
"There are some data showing an increase in the number of Japanese encephalitis patients in some parts of Asia," Miyazaki told The Japan Times on Thursday. "So if you plan to visit there, it's better to get a shot before leaving."
The ministry stopped recommending vaccinations against Japanese encephalitis in 2005 following reports that recipients developed ADEM. But with the development of the new vaccine, which is considered much safer, the ministry resumed recommending vaccinations in 2009.
Japanese encephalitis is transmitted via mosquitoes and causes acute inflammation in parts of the brain and spinal cord, leading to symptoms such as headaches and impaired consciousness. A total of 57 people in this country contracted Japanese encephalitis between 2002 and 2011, mostly in western Japan, according to the health ministry.