“UNICEF and WHO have been shocked and saddened to learn of the deaths of at least 15 young children in Idlib, Syria. The deaths of the children occurred in areas where a measles immunization campaign had been under way, according to a Joint UNICEF-WHO statement yesterday.

Syria Image/CIA

An investigation into the deaths is underway and the vaccine campaign has been halted.

Preliminary finding into the tragedy reveals an anesthetic was administered to up to 75 infants, killing 15. The Guardian reports, the report says an anesthetic, atracuriam, which is used as a muscle relaxant in surgery was given to the infants, perhaps mixed with the measles vaccine.

The error is believed to have occurred because the packaging of the anesthetic drug was similar to that of the solution used to mix the measles vaccination. The drug is usually fatal when given to infants in the doses administered, but older children can survive low dosages due to their higher body weights. The fatalities occurred in children between 6 and 18 months.

UNICEF and WHO stated it is vital that immunization efforts against measles – a disease which is a leading killer of children worldwide – resume as soon as possible.

Measles is a particular threat to children who have been displaced from their homes and communities, and who are living in camps or other insanitary conditions.”