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Zaire Knott, 5-week-old Foster Child, Dies at DYFS Office

Posted Oct 01 2008 8:03pm
The birth dose of the Hep B vaccine was the first of Chandler's two adverse vaccine reactions.

5-week-old foster child dies at DYFS office
Officials in Newark suspect reaction to routine vaccination

Friday, October 21, 2005
BY SUSAN K. LIVIO
Star-Ledger Staff

A 5-week-old foster child died at a state Division of Youth and Family Services office in Newark yesterday, shortly after a routine visit to a medical clinic where he received a vaccination.

A DYFS aide bringing newborn Zaire Knott from the clinic to the office on Halsey Street noticed the infant was having trouble breathing and was bleeding from his nose, state spokesman Andy Williams said.

The aide rushed the boy inside DYFS District Office #1, where an in-house nurse urgently gave the newborn cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Although the nurse was assisted by emergency medical technicians who managed to regain a pulse, the baby died in the office at 12:46 p.m., Williams said.

There was conflicting information last night about who took the boy to St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark, where he was officially pronounced dead. DYFS said EMTs drove him there after taking nearly 30 minutes to arrive; a statement from the Newark Police Department said a DYFS worker drove the baby to the hospital.

"An exact cause of death will be determined at a later date pending the results of an autopsy," according to the police statement. DYFS officials suspect the immunizations -- for hepatitis B and polio -- "caused the distress or some sort of reaction," Williams said.

"We'll review the circumstances, but it sounds like a medical complication. We'll look at exactly what was done after they discovered the baby was in distress," Williams added. But one expert said fatal reactions to those routine vaccinations are nearly unheard of.

"Every (vaccine) has risk," said Susan Morrison, an immunology and pediatric infectious disease specialist at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville. But she added, "I have never, in 25 years, heard of anyone dying within an hour of getting the vaccine for the first exposure time. ... In my experience, I have never had anyone have a life-threatening complication to polio and hepatitis B (vaccines)."

A person can die from a severe allergic reaction to a component of a vaccine, but that requires previous exposure to that substance, Morrison said. "And at this age, I find it very hard to believe that would happen."

It is standard for a 5-week-old to get several vaccinations, such as hepatitis B, according to the recommended childhood and adolescence immunization schedule provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The schedule recommends the polio vaccine be given at 2 months.

Nobody could be reached last night at the Forest Hill Family Health Center in Newark, where his foster mother had taken Zaire. The DYFS transportation aide had picked up the boy from the clinic for a scheduled visit with his birth mother at the district office. DYFS workers were distraught over the baby's death, said Hetty
Rosenstein, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1037, which represents most employees in that office. "I have never seen more wrecked people," she said.

Williams said the workers have been offered grief counseling, which will continue today. He said the foster mother, a resident of Newark who has cared for the boy since he left the hospital after his Sept. 16 birth, also will receive bereavement counseling.

The baby had been taken at birth from his mother, a resident of Irvington. Williams declined to reveal details about the child's family and foster home.

State Child Advocate Kevin M. Ryan said his office is investigating the child's death as well as his involvement with DYFS. Regarding any role the vaccination might have played, he said, "I think it's premature to draw any conclusions."

DYFS is in the midst of a systemwide overhaul amid criticism from child advocates who say the agency is in disarray.

Staff writers Kate Coscarelli and Brian Donohue contributed to this report.
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