A United Nations (UN) measles vaccination campaign has been halted following the death of at least 15 children under the age of two in northern Syria.
According to a report by Reuters on Tuesday, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed the deaths.
“UNICEF and WHO have been shocked and saddened to learn of the deaths of at least 15 young children in Idlib, Syria,” the statement said. “The deaths of the children occurred in areas where a measles immunization campaign had been under way.”
Abdullah Ajaj, a physician at a medical center in Jarjanaz, said the children began to demonstrate signs of “severe allergic shock” about one hour after receiving the second round of measles vaccine in Idlib.
Witnesses say some of the children’s bodies began to swell after they received the shots and they suffocated to death.
The deaths came a day after the second round of shots started in Idlib and Deir Ezzour.
Some sources say between 34 and 50 children have died, although the figure cannot be independently confirmed.
The WHO said it is sending a team of experts to investigate the deaths, adding that “establishing the precise cause of the children’s deaths is vital.”
UN agencies and other international organizations have been providing medical assistance to Syria since the foreign-backed militancy in Syria began in 2011.
Children in Syria have been receiving UN vaccination since a measles outbreak in early 2013.