Joint WHO - UNICEF statement on immunization

Joint WHO - UNICEF statement
18 December 2013

As children’s health is one of any parent’s most important priorities, WHO and UNICEF are keen to remind parents of the critical importance of childhood immunization.

Each year in Viet Nam, vaccines protect 1.5 million children under-1 year of age against a minimum of 8 life-threatening childhood diseases.

However, over the past few months parents may have been worried about a number of media reports that have suggested a link between a small number of child deaths or adverse events, and vaccination with the 5-in-1 or pentavalent vaccine.

Any report of an adverse event following immunization is a major concern. At the Government of Viet Nam’s request, WHO and UNICEF helped to support an investigation with independent national and international assistance. No evidence was found to indicate that the quality or safety of pentavalent vaccine has directly or indirectly led to child deaths following immunization.

In June 2013, Viet Nam’s findings were also presented at a global meeting of independent vaccine safety experts. They considered evidence from Bhutan, India, Sri Lanka, but following a thorough review concluded that there was no evidence to suggest a problem with the safety of pentavalent vaccines in any of the countries. This report has been made publicly available.

Immunization safety

Whilst every effort is made to ensure the safety of immunization, when thousands of children are vaccinated on a daily basis, a small number of reports of adverse events following immunization are to be expected. In some cases, children taken for immunization are suffering from underlying childhood illnesses such as pneumonia or diahhrea, or serious congenital diseases that may not yet have been diagnosed.

On very rare occasions – less than one in a million – an otherwise healthy child can suffer a serious allergic reaction to a vaccine, which requires immediate medical attention. If a child develops any unusual symptoms in the hours following immunization, including difficulty in breathing, parents should seek immediate medical attention. Such allergic reactions are similar to the kind of sensitivity that a small number of individuals may have to a bee sting, peanuts or penicillin, but can be treated with the appropriate medication.

Saving lives

Whilst any report of a child dying is a tragedy, it is important for parents to remember that vaccines protect millions of children from deadly diseases, and save lives.

Pentavalent vaccine protects children against five life threatening diseases. The chances of dying or suffering from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Haemophilus type B or Hepatitis B are far greater than any possible side effect from the vaccine. This is illustrated in the graph below.

Immunization remains the simplest and most effective way of protecting your child from disease. WHO and UNICEF recommend that all parents check their children’s immunization status to ensure that their vaccinations are fully up-to-date.

Risk of Death or Disability from Disease without Immunization

infograph on immunization

For more information, please contact

Mr Trinh Anh Tuan | UN Communication Officer | One UN Communications Office
Tel: +84 4 38224383 | Mob: 0903296393 | Email :

Ms Tran Thi Loan| Communications Assistant | World Health Organization
Tel: +84 43 943 3734 | Mob: 0915 413 814 | Email :