A pregnant woman receives Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, on August 19, 2021. ( AFP / Juni Kriswanto)

Vaccinated mothers did not cause acute kidney injury in Indonesian children: experts

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Indonesian health experts say Covid-19 vaccines administered to breastfeeding and pregnant mothers did not cause acute kidney injury cases in children, as has been falsely claimed in multiple social media posts. The Indonesian health ministry has linked the acute kidney injury cases, which have killed more than 190 children in the Southeast Asian archipelago in 2022, to harmful substances found in medicinal syrups.

"Acute kidney injury in toddlers is due to the mRNA vaccine, given to mothers when they were pregnant or breastfeeding. Doctors and the media try to cover it up and want to blame it on Covid-19 and medicine. In fact, it is the VACCINE," reads this tweet, posted on October 19, 2022.

It has been shared more than 600 times.

A screenshot of the misleading post, taken on November 11, 2022

The post circulated shortly after the Indonesia health ministry announced in mid-October 2022 a spate of acute kidney injury cases among children, with the majority affecting children aged five years old and younger.

Acute kidney injury is a condition where the kidneys suddenly stop working properly, and can include complete kidney failure.

As of November 6, 2022, the Indonesian health ministry has recorded 324 cases of acute kidney injury among children, causing at least 195 deaths.

According to the ministry, most fatalities are children aged five and younger.

Children in Indonesia currently need to be at least six years old to get vaccinated.

Other posts claiming the acute kidney injury cases were caused by Covid-19 vaccines given to breastfeeding and pregnant mothers have been shared 480 times after circulating on Twitter here and here, and on Facebook here and here.

Videos of Indonesian podcaster Ali Ridho Assegaf, popularly known as Babeh Aldo, making a similar claim were uploaded on YouTube here, on Twitter here and here, and on Facebook here, racking up more than 254,000 views.

However, the claim is false.

Medicinal syrups

The Indonesian health ministry has blamed the acute kidney injury cases on harmful substances -- such as ethylene glycol and diethylene glycol -- found in several medicinal syrups.

On November 6, 2022, Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said there were fewer new cases and deaths after the government temporarily banned the sales and prescription of medicinal syrups about three weeks earlier.

On November 9, 2022, Indonesia's food and drug agency revoked the licences of two chemical firms that distributed materials used in syrup medicines linked to the wave of child deaths, AFP reported.

The World Health Organization has said it found an "unacceptable amount" of diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol in four cough and cold syrups, and warned they could be linked to the deaths of nearly 70 children in The Gambia due to acute kidney injury.

No vaccination link

Prof Dr Soedjatmiko, pediatrician and member of the Indonesian Pediatrician Association (IDAI) immunisation task force, told AFP that there is no link between Covid-19 vaccines given to pregnant or breastfeeding mothers and acute kidney injury cases in children.

"There are 186 countries that have administered Covid-19 vaccination since 2020," he said. "There is no significant increase in acute kidney injury cases in these countries. The sudden increase in cases was only in The Gambia and Indonesia."

"Acute kidney injury is not caused by Covid-19 vaccines", whether they are given to children or their mothers, said Dr Dirga Sakti Rambe, vaccinologist and internal medicine physician, adding that the claim "is illogical."

He pointed out that billions of people, including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, have been vaccinated against Covid-19 across the globe, but the spate of acute kidney injury cases has not been reported in many countries.

"The health ministry and local health offices did epidemiological investigations," Dr Dirga told AFP. "The conclusion that contaminated medicine is the cause did not come out of the blue. Everything had been checked, including the history of Covid-19 infections, vaccinations, everything."

Indonesia's health ministry has also refuted the purported link between acute kidney injury cases and Covid-19 vaccines.

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

The government also said the claim that acute kidney injury cases were caused by breast milk from vaccinated mothers is a "hoax".

AFP has previously debunked another false claim that acute kidney injury cases are caused by Covid-19 vaccines given to children.