A child receives Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine at an elementary school in Jakarta on December 15, 2021, as part of a government programme to vaccinate children aged 6 to 11. ( AFP / Adek Berry)

Experts say no link between Covid-19 vaccine and acute kidney injury among children in Indonesia

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Indonesia's health ministry and health experts say there are no links between a spike in acute kidney injury cases in the country and Covid-19 vaccinations, as has been claimed by multiple social media posts. The health ministry attributed the acute injury cases, which have killed more than 150 children by the end of October 2022, to harmful substances found in medicinal syrups.

The false claim was shared more than 200 times after being posted on Twitter here on October 20, 2022.

"Condolences after hearing, seeing and knowing that young children are suddenly suffering from mysterious kidney failure. In my opinion, 1,000 percent of all of these cases are caused by the cursed Covid-19 vaccine that has been injected into their blood. It's the work of the cursed devils," reads the Indonesian-language tweet.

Screenshot of the misleading claim, taken on October 26, 2022

The "mysterious kidney failure" mentioned in the tweet is referring to a spike in acute kidney injuries among children in Indonesia in 2022. As of October 31, 2022, the Indonesian health ministry has recorded 159 child deaths from acute kidney injuries.

According to Britain’s National Health Service, acute kidney injury is a condition where the kidneys suddenly stop working properly, and can include complete kidney failure.

Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin blamed the acute kidney injury cases on harmful substances -- such as ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol -- found in several medicinal syrups.

This prompted the Indonesian government to temporarily ban the sales of medicinal syrups, according to local media outlet Tempo.

Indonesia's Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) revoked the licences of two companies that produced the contaminated medicinal syrups on October 31, 2022.

Deaths from acute kidney injury have also been reported in The Gambia, and the World Health Organization says they may be linked to contaminated cough and cold syrups.

But posts falsely claiming the acute kidney injury cases are caused by Covid-19 vaccines were also shared on Twitter here; on Facebook here and here; and on Instagram here, here, here and here.

'No link to Covid-19 vaccination'

Indonesia's health ministry has refuted claims that cases of acute kidney injury are linked to Covid-19 vaccinations.

Health ministry spokesperson Dr M. Syahri said in a statement on October 18, 2022: "Until now, the acute kidney failure incidents are not linked to Covid-19 vaccinations or Covid-19 infections."

Dicky Budiman, a global health security and resilience researcher at Australia's Griffith University, said it is very unlikely that the kidney injury cases are caused by Covid-19 vaccination.

"There are many causes of kidney injury, but there is no literature that says it's due to vaccination," he said.

"Vaccines are a biomedical product that has the highest safety standard. When a vaccine is developed, safety comes first and then efficacy," he added.

RA Adaninggar Primadia Nariswari, a doctor of internal medicine at Adi Husada Undaan Wetan Hospital in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, agrees that the claim is baseless from the medical point of view.

"Most of the victims were children under 6 years old who had not had a vaccination," she said.

According to the Indonesian Pediatric Association (IDAI), the majority of acute kidney injury patients are aged between 1 and 5 years old.

As of November 3, 2022, children in Indonesia need to be at least 6 years old to get vaccinated.

November 17, 2022 This report has been updated to explain that the fatality figure was recorded at the end of October 2022.