19 health workers dead after COVID-19 vaccination; health experts demand investigation

The COVID-19 vaccination drive was kicked off on January 16 in India. Since then, at least 19 health workers have died post-vaccination. Doctors and public health experts write to the health ministry, demanding an investigation into the deaths.

Kushal Mishra
| Updated: February 5th, 2021

Frontline workers were vaccinated against COVID-19 in Gujarat. Photo: Ministry of Health

On February 1,  47-year-old Mannu Pahan, a health worker from Ranchi in Jharkhand, died within 48 hours after being vaccinated against COVID-19. He died at the Medanta Hospital and his body has been sent for a post mortem.  

Pahan is one of the 19 health workers in the country to lose his life after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination since the launch of COVID-19 immunisation drive on January 16.

While the government has denied any connection between the deaths and the vaccine, the country’s public health officials, wrote to the Union ministry of health and family welfare on January 31, raising questions and demanding an immediate investigation into the deaths. 

The letter to the ministry of health demanded details of the deaths that happened after COVID-19 vaccination, of serious and very serious (adverse post-vaccination events) cases, and making public the investigation details including the serial number, date of vaccination, details of Adverse Events Following Immunisation (AEFI), location, status of investigation and results. 

Image used for representation purpose only. Pic: AIR News

The letter also demanded that the minutes of AEFI committees formed at the national, state and district levels on adverse incidents arising post-vaccination, be made public. The letter drew attention to several facts: the death of health workers has occurred within a few hours to up to five days after taking COVID-19 vaccine; the deceased were aged between 23 and 56 years; media reports highlighted cardiovascular problems or brain trauma as the cause behind each of the deaths; and that in all the cases, the vaccine involved was Covishield.

“So far, most of the cases of COVID-19 vaccine deaths have reportedly been due to cardiovascular and brain trauma. All these groups need to be examined immediately so that, at least, the reasons behind it are known,” Amar Jesani, an independent consultant, researcher and teacher in bioethics and public health told Gaon Connection. He is also editor of Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, and one of the signatories of the letter. Jesani urged that the investigations be made public so that there was no scepticism among the people about COVID-19 vaccination. 

“The World Health Organization also says in its guidelines on COVID-19 vaccination that if two or more deaths occur after the vaccination from either the same vaccine or due to the same reason or are reported from one place, then group screenings must be undertaken,” pointed out Jesani. The deaths that have occurred so far do meet the World Health Organization’s definition of the adverse events occurring post vaccination,” he added.

However, the national level AEFI committee has not yet responded, but the cases are being investigated by members of the AEFI committee at the district level.

Meanwhile, on February 2, the central government informed the Rajya Sabha that the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation ‘has not received information about any specific severe adverse event causally linked to administration of COVID-19 vaccine.’

“If the government says that the deaths have not been vaccination-related, it would be very much like passing a hasty and unsubstantiated judgement; it is vital that there is transparency regarding/on the vaccination,” Yogesh Jain, a public health officer, from Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh,  told Gaon Connection. 

“A responsible government can be expected to conduct an immediate, national level investigation into the deaths that have occurred post COVID-19 vaccination. Unless there is transparency about vaccination, people are likely to become sceptical,” he concluded.

Read the story in Hindi.