Karachi: “Vaccination coverage in Sindh is around 50% which must be increased to 90% to eradicate the diseases that are claiming the lives of the children in Pakistan,” said leading paediatricians in a press briefing.
“Lack of awareness among parents is the biggest contributor to low immunization coverage in Pakistan, and it is very unfortunate that despite the availability of free vaccine by the Government under the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), children are dying of vaccine-preventable diseases,” they added.
General Secretary, Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA), Dr Mumtaz Lakhani, President PPA Sindh, Dr Ghulam Rasool Buriro. General Secretary, PPA Sindh, Dr Khalid Shafi, President, and Elect Asia Pacific Paediatric Association, Dr Iqbal Memon, also spoke on occasion. GSK Pakistan supported the awareness campaign.
They said that essential immunization helped eradicate smallpox and polio from the world and hopefully measles will also be eradicated in the near future if the rate of essential immunization reaches 90 % or above in all developing countries including Pakistan.
They highlighted that the EPI was established in 1978 and currently aims to vaccinate children aged 0-23 months against ten target diseases: Childhood Tuberculosis, Polio, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Diarrhea, Hepatitis B, Haemophilus Influenza Type B (HIB), Pneumonia, Measles and Tetanus.
“Every year due to vaccines, approximately 3 million deaths are prevented. Immunization is estimated to save 2-3 million lives every year. An estimated 19.5 million infants worldwide are still missing out on the basic vaccines. If the optimum rates of immunization or “herd immunity” are not maintained, the diseases prevented by vaccination will return,” they added.
Highlighting the disease burden of vaccine-preventable diseases, the speakers said that diarrhoea and pneumonia are the two biggest killers of children globally and specifically in Pakistan. “Getting children vaccinated is vital to counter the menace and curb the death toll,” they reasoned.
They also highlighted that vaccination could reduce the usage of some antibiotics. This can help address the challenge of antibiotic resistance. Vaccines help develop immunity against many diseases, resulting in low reliance on antibiotics.
Panellists demanded that the age bracket for the EPI should be increased to 5 years and EPI centres should also be open in the evening to increase reach and facilitate people. They also urged the Government to include more vaccines to the EPI program.
“Vaccines are completely safe, and parents should not compromise on the immunization of their children as it prevents illness, disability, and death. All the stakeholders, including doctors and media, have to join hands to create awareness and save the future generation of Pakistan from deadly diseases,” they concluded.