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A health worker administering a correct polio vaccine in the village of Dhamua Photo: BIKAS DAS/AP
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi, 2:10PM BST 16 Sep 2013
According to senior health officials, 57 of 114 children under five began vomiting after they were given the wrong medicine by nurses under a nationwide drive to keep India polio-free.
The error was first noticed by the father of a 14-month-old boy who saw staff administer the 'polio' drops from boxes marked 'Hepatitis B vaccine' at Khatun primary school in Goghat, a village 50 miles from Calcutta.
Angry parents turned on health staff after their children became sick and forced them to lock themselves inside their building for safety until police arrived. The incident follows the Bihar midday meal tragedy in July when 23 children died after eating a lunch which had been accidentally contaminated with pesticide.
Officials rushed to reassure parents that taking the Hepatitis B vaccine posed no serious health risk to their children.
Biswaranjan Sathpaty, director of West Bengal Health Services, said the error had been made because a member of staff had sent her husband to collect the vaccines instead of fetching them herself.
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"A few samples of hepatitis B mistakenly found their way into the container marked for polio vaccines. A nurse was assigned to collect the packet of vaccines from a local government office. But she sent her husband to get the vaccines," he told AFP.
Four health workers had been suspended and the government said it would investigate the incident.
India has been officially polio free since 2011 and had maintained a strong vaccination since then to retain its status. Health campaigners fear the incident will damage the programme's reputation and deter parents from vaccinating their children.