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Why did the people of Nigeria reject the polio vaccine?

Posted Jan 12 2010 6:34am

From a letter in Health Affairs:

In 1996 Pfizer came to Kano to administer a test of the drug Trovan for a meningitis outbreak. One hundred children were given Trovan, and another hundred were given chloramphenicol, a drug approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Of the 200 children, eleven died due to Trovan and low dosages of chloramphenicol, and many others suffered injuries (paralysis, deafness, blindness, brain damage, liver damage, and joint disease) from Trovan. The U.S. Food
and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Trovan for adults in 1997 but severely restricted its use in 1999. Europe banned it outright.

In 2000 a Nigerian report exposed the negative outcomes from this drug trial; in Kano there were street demonstrations and demands for reform. Thirty families sued Pfizer in 2001, and in 2007 the Nigerian and Kano State governments also sued for damages. In February 2009 there was an out-of-court settlement
for a reported $45 million.

This incidentwas on everyone’s mind when WHO personnel showed up in Kano with an American-made vaccine for polio eradication…There was a political dimension to this problem, but people were wary of any medicine from the United States.  When Muslim religious leaders stated that the vaccine would sterilize young girls—a terrible outcome like that of Trovan—the program was “boycotted.”

  • Alan Frishman, Hobart and Wm. Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York
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