With the addition of this new vaccine, EPI will be providing coverage against 9 deadly disease through the routine Immunization program which currently covers Polio, Measles, BCG, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertusis, Hib, Hepatitis B & now pneumococcal disease.
It is pertinent to mention that the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) of the government of Pakistan is a disease prevention activity aiming at reducing illness, disability and mortality from childhood diseases preventable by immunization. Through this program life of children are improved and enhanced to secure the future of Pakistan.
Approximately 70 children (under the age of 5 years) die each day in Pakistan due to pneumococcal pneumonia. WHO approved vaccines are available today that can help prevent the loss of children of Pakistan, Dr. Syed Jamal Raza, Director National Institute of Child Health said.
For the introduction of this new vaccine, EPI followed a rigorous process of approvals from international donors, global technical authorities like WHO as well as local technical committees & experts from Pakistan, he said.
Previously it took approximately 10 to 15 years for developing countries like Pakistan (where the burden of disease and mortality is highest) to get newer vaccines in the EPI. Now with the help of this unique funding arrangement where approx 95% of vaccine cost is covered by of GAVI-AMC fund, newer vaccines like pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines are being introduced in developing countries simultaneously with developed countries saving potentially hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
Dr. Jamal said that Pneumococcal vaccine has been in use in such programs across the world mostly in the developed countries. What makes Pakistan unique is the fact that Pakistan is the first country in South Asia to introduce pneumococcal vaccine and also happens to be the largest country in terms of birth cohorts where a WHO approved pneumococcal vaccine will be available free of cost from the EPI programme to help fight pneumococcal disease (including Pneumonia, Meningitis and Bacteria).
‘These vaccines will be available free of cost to all the children across Pakistan at EPI centers and are ideally given to children at 6, 10, and 14 weeks of age with the present vaccine. This vaccine is an addition to the routine immunization vaccine providing convenience to the parents. However, ‘these same vaccines cost a lot of money if prescribed in the private sector ranging between approximately Rs 12500 to 16000 per course,’ said an official at EPI Program Sindh.
It is worth adding that pneumonia is considered one of the biggest causes of child mortality worldwide, claiming up to 1.5 million lives each year. The burden of pneumonia in Pakistan reflects the severity of the disease globally, whereby an estimated 91000 children die of pneumonia annually of which pneumococcal pneumonia claims 27000 lives each year, and millions of more suffer from disease morbidity and infection with the threat of long lasting adverse effects on health.