Lahore: 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 under the EPI programme to help fight pneumococcal disease (including Pneumonia, Meningitis and Bacteria).
This was stated by Dr. Tariq Butta, Chairman of National Immunization Technical Advisory Groups (NITAG) while briefing a group of journalists here in Lahore.
“This program has been initially launched in Punjab and Punjab’s Health Department is fully geared up to vaccinate all the children of vulnerable age in the province. But, parents must cooperate with the staff of the department to make this very important program a success,” said the Chairman NITAG.
“Decades of experience with polio vaccine have equipped the health department with necessary gadgets required to protect the pneumococcal vaccine, which requires to be kept and supplied through a properly maintained cold chain,” he added.
He said that the EPI staff has been trained for this new vaccine and now EPI program will be providing coverage against 9 deadly disease through the routine Immunization program which including Polio, Measles, BCG, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, Hepatitis B, and pneumonia.
Dr. Tariq said that there is no shortage of vaccinators in the health department; in fact all the government hospital and clinics already operate as EPI centers where trained teams are available to vaccinate the children near their residences. “Mobilizing the parents through awareness campaign now would be in supreme national interest and we hope that all concerned will contribute to the cause,” he added.
Dr. Tahir Masood, Dean of children’s hospital Lahore said that the parents of poor children can now get their child vaccinated against Pneumonia free of cost at EPI centres across the country. “It will indeed be a huge relief for them as the full course of this vaccine costs between Rs 14,000- 20,000 till now and was out of reach of poor,” he added.
He further said that children up to the age of 5 years are more vulnerable to this deadly disease owing to their not-fully-developed defensive system and the parents should ensure that their children get vaccinated against the disease.
“The bacteria of pneumonia may also cause meningitis, epilepsy or other disabilities. Therefore, this is a golden opportunity for parents to protect children from this deadly pneumonia through the free available vaccine,” he added.
Dr. Tahir expressed gratitude to global NGO GAVI that picked up 95 percent of the cost of the vaccine, to help save the deaths of 9 children a day from this disease in Pakistan.
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.
Pakistan is among the few countries where approximately 70 children (under the age of 5 years) die each day in Pakistan due to pneumococcal pneumonia. Therefore, for the introduction of this new vaccine, EPI followed a rigorous process of approvals from international donors, global technical authorities like World Health Organization as well as local technical committees and experts from Pakistan.
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.