Japan panel finds no link to vaccines, deaths: report

The entrance of Pfizer World headquaters in New York City, August 31, 2003. REUTERS/Jeff Christensen

TOKYO (Reuters) - A panel of experts at Japan’s health ministry found no direct link between vaccines made by Pfizer Inc and Sanofi-Aventis SA and the deaths of children, but said further checks were needed, Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday.

Japan will keep its suspension on the use of the vaccines that prevent meningitis and pneumonia, a health ministry official said after the safety panel’s meeting, but declined to comment further.

The ministry halted the use of Pfizer’s Prevenar and Sanofi’s ActHIB vaccines in response to the deaths of four children shortly after receiving the vaccines.

U.S. health officials have said they were aware of the deaths in Japan but have not seen any such safety concerns in the United States.

In February last year health authorities in the Netherlands said no relation was found between Prevenar and the deaths of three infants who had received the vaccine.

Three of the children that died in Japan were administered Prevenar together with ActHIB. In addition, three of the children also received a mixed vaccine against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus on the same day they received the other vaccines.

Three of the four children died a day after being immunized. The deaths happened between March 2 and March 4.

Representatives for Pfizer and Sanofi in Tokyo have said the companies were cooperating with the investigation.

A spokesman for Sanofi has said that the company has shipped more than 3 million doses of ActHIB in Japan since 2008 while a spokesman for Pfizer said the firm has distributed more than 2 million doses of Prevenar in Japan since last year.

Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Nathan Layne