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Climate of fear

A Four-year-old girl died in hospital on Friday, June 12 this year, fourteen hours after being given the first dose of the Johnson and Johnson (Ad26.ZEBOV and MVA-BN-Filo) vaccine.

M28 Investigates exposes controversial Johnson and Johnson Ebola vaccine in Rwanda

A Four-year-old girl died in hospital on Friday, June 12 this year, fourteen hours after being given the first dose of the Johnson and Johnson (Ad26.ZEBOV and MVA-BN-Filo) vaccine.

Rosette Iranzi was vaccinated at Rugerero Ebola Vaccination Centre located in Kabilizi Cell, Rugerero Sector, Rubavu District in the Western Province of Rwanda.

“She lost consciousness the night she was vaccinated and was rushed to hospital but doctors were unable to revive the girl,” Said Vanessa Uwababyeyi, Iranzi’s elder sister who took her with other two kids for vaccination against Ebola.

Uwababyeyi said that the three children received an injection around 16:40 and waited for 15 minutes as health providers recommended before they could go back to their dwelling place.

Before leaving the hospital premised, she was given two paracetamol tablets to give to the children, half for the two little ones including late Iranzi and one pill for their older sibling.

“Later in the evening, Iranzi started trembling while her body getting cold, and I gave her half of the paracetamol pill but the situation kept worsening and after 30 minutes she started vomiting while also developing diarrhea. She died the following morning,” said Uwababyeyi.

Not only Iranzi’s death was blamed on the Ebola vaccine.

Mrs Angelique Mukasine, a mother of five children who lived with her husband in Rwaza Cell of Rugerero Sector, Rubavu District,died on May 18. The cross-border merchant passed awayone week after receiving the second shot of Ebola vaccine.

“As she was used to cross the border to and from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo where Ebola is known to have been prevalent, she was advised to get vaccinated against thevirus. She got the first injection in April and she was a bit fine, no sooner did she get the second shot in mid-May, she started feeling weak, and later started vomiting blood fluid,” Said her husband Xavier Hategekimana.

While taken for a check-up to the Murara Health Centre, Hategekimana said that the check-up failed to identify the health problem, and she was later given some tablets believed to calm the situation as she returned home.

“She was supposed to go back to the hospital for a further check-up but that day didn’t happen because she died at home three days before the appointment with the doctor,” he added.

Mukasine’s husband added that though the post-mortem team told him that his wife died of tuberculosis, she had never shown any sign of tuberculosis before, which makes the ruling questionable.

Hategekimana requested for another round of autopsy from a private hospital as she had lost hope in the Government-owned Rubavu District Hospital which conducted the controversial post-mortem.

M28 Investigates has learnt that since the launch of Ebola vaccine in Rubavu and Rusizi districts, there has been 42 serious adverse events, including eight deaths all linked to the Johnson and Johnson Ebola vaccine.

People in those districts who talked to us, said all the serious adverse events have started coming up as the second vaccination round kicked-off.

For instance, after Iranzi’s death, the paramedic team took her body to Rubavu Hospital for an autopsy examination and the family says it was initially told on phone that the child died of diarrhea.

However, when the medical and health officials paid a visit to the family after two weeks, the family was told that the examination results were not yet out.

Concerned authorities said that according to the Rubavu Hospital and Rusizi Hospital pathology report and investigations they conducted on the deceased people after receiving the vaccine, they died from other illnesses, not the Ebola vaccine.

Dr Etienne Karita, the Country Director of Project San Fransisco that coordinates the vaccination program in partnership with the Johnson and Johnson, told M28 Investigates that the vaccine the girl had been given and the others were properly certified and were the same administered to over 92,000 people in Rusizi and Rubavu districts.

He said that according to the medical report, the girl had other illnesses, which he refused to reveal, adding that that woman also had serious tuberculosis which caused her death.

“It is a highly reliable vaccine and we always ensure reporting the serious adverse cases of those who get the vaccine andbecome sick,” said Dr Karita, further noting, “In all the studies conducted on people vaccinated, there hasn’t been any sign of the adverse effect resulting from the vaccine be it those receiving the first or the second doze, apart from the usual side effects like any other vaccine,”

“Under the UMURINZI Ebola vaccination program, over 90,000 people have been vaccinated with about 60,000 receiving two doses of Johnson & Johnson Ebola vaccine,” he added.

However, we discovered that a health check before all the four were inoculated showed no abnormalities, apart from one old man who was suffering from hypertension. All the medical staff involved had valid certification.

We couldn’t independently verify health check reports as Dr Karita refused to share them with us, saying it is not acceptable to reveal such sensitive documents with the media. All he could say is, the people who died had other serious complications like tuberculosis, an assertion that was vehemently denied by the relatives of those who died.

While talking to residents of Rusizi and Rubavu, we noticed that there was growing anxiety among the community towards the second injection following the incidents with some saying that they are now in fear of the vaccine and might not go back for either the first or second dose of the vaccine.

The UMURINZI “Unprecedented Movement to drive a Unified Rwandan Initiative for National ZEBOVAC Immunization” Ebola vaccination campaign was launched by the Ministry of Health on 8th December 2019 in Rubavu District and 18th December in Rusizi District when Ebola was wrecking lives in Goma and Bukavu towns of the neighboring DR Congo.

In Rwanda the program is implemented by Project San Fransisco/Center for Family Health Research in partnership with Rinda Ubuzima. It is sponsored by the Ministry of Health.

When it was introduced in Rwanda, it was yet to get marketing authorization in Europe. It later got it on July 1, 2020.

So far, Johnson and Johnson Ebola Vaccine has not yet been approved by the World Health Organisation.

As of now, Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine known as Janssen COVID-19 vaccine has been temporarily discontinued “due to unexpected illness in a study participant”.

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