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A shot at tackling childhood pneumonia in India

Dr. Mangla Sood, State Immunization Officer, Himachal Pradesh

Looking out over India from the north-west Himalayas, Mandi was the perfect setting for an historic day for public health last week, whose consequences will reach across the whole country. Our town in hilly Himachal Pradesh witnessed the launch of the pneumococcal vaccine as part of India’s Universal Immunization Programme, which will protect children against pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis. This momentous step will save lives and address India’s burden of pneumonia, which is one of the world’s highest. 

Photo: formal dress at the launch ceremony last week. 

The vaccine is being launched in a phased manner across India, covering Himachal Pradesh, parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in its first phase, before expanding to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan next year and eventually the entire country. With this shot, the government program strengthens its effort to reduce vaccine preventable deaths among young children. In India, pneumonia is a ruthless killer of more children under five years of age than any other infectious disease. The pentavalent vaccine, which is already part of the immunization programme, protects against pneumonia caused by Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) . With the introduction of pneumococcal vaccine, we should see a decline in the number of child deaths from pneumococcal pneumonia.

The launch event saw many distinguished individuals join nurses and health workers to sign a pledge to ensure every child receives the new vaccine. Among them were Jagat Prakash Nadda, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Vandana Gurnani, Joint Secretary for Reproductive & Child Health, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and Kaul Singh Thakur, Himachal Pradesh Health Minister.

Speaking at the event, the Union Health Minister said that the launch of pneumococcal vaccine was in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment to saving child lives. He emphasized the importance of preventive measures to preserve health, not just stop disease. The vaccine will not only prevent child deaths, but reduce the number of children being hospitalized due to pneumonia, reducing the economic burden on the families, he added. Heralding the vaccine as a tool for creating equity, the health minister said that the vaccine will be accessible for free to those who needed it the most. The Himachal Pradesh Health Minister, Kaul Singh Thakur welcomed the vaccine introduction in the state, and spoke about how it would help improve the child health indictors in the state, which already were among the best in the country.

Photo: Health minister JP Nadda at the launch. 

The launch of the pneumococcal vaccine follows the introduction of three new vaccines: inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV), rotavirus vaccine (RVV), and measles-rubella (MR) vaccine into the immunization programme in the last year alone. India’s vaccine programme will now provide vaccines against 12 life threatening diseases, free of cost, to 26 million children annually. It is a small step in protection against pneumonia, a giant leap towards child health.

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