Lack of awareness about pneumonia vaccine

Although vaccination against certain kind of pneumonia is widely available and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) yet it remains out of reach of millions of children who might have benefitted by it and not developed pneumonia had they received the shot in time. The cost of the pneumonia vaccine is prohibitive and a clear barrier to access. But the low levels of awareness about pneumonia vaccination also keep the potentially life-saving shots out of reach of most at risk children. No wonder that the pneumonia vaccination is not a part of the free vaccines provided to children by the government in public healthcare centres in India.

Interviewing a cross-section of healthcare providers in Bahraich and Gonda districts of Uttar Pradesh state, it is evident that information about standard pneumonia vaccination as recommended by the WHO is lacking, and at times, misleading. Although pneumonia vaccines are available in private pharmacies and available at some private sector healthcare centres (upon payment) yet most lacking is the information in the parents of the new born child who aren’t aware that if they can afford the vaccine, their child can be protected against certain kind of pneumonia.

According to a study children who aren’t vaccinated against pneumonia and develop pneumonia in their childhood, are 40% more likely to die of pneumonia. Also awareness is lacking most where it is needed most. Parents and caretaker guardians of children who come from poor families had the least knowledge about pneumonia vaccination. They weren’t even clear about the vaccines that the child has received although their vaccination card in some instances clearly had it written. Low health literacy, low literacy rates, poverty, and very little health information being provided in healthcare centres are clearly some of the obstacles that prevent children from getting vaccinated against pneumonia.
Pneumonia related deaths are bound to increase if vaccination continues to remain out of reach of most children. Literacy about health and pneumonia prevention, treatment and care should be scaled up so that communities are more prepared to control infections such as pneumonia and protect their children. According to a study Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB) vaccine if provided to children can potentially reduce 400,000 deaths attributed to childhood pneumonia.

Apart from Haemophilus influenzae type B (HiB), the other vaccine against pneumonia is called Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). The HiB vaccine is available in about 140 countries and PCV in over 30 countries. In India these vaccines are only available in private pharmacies and healthcare centres and not provided by the government-run national immunization programme.

Dr KK Verma, senior Paediatrician, Bahraich District Hospital, said that although pneumonia vaccination is available in the market but it is very expensive and that is why most of his patients are unable to afford it or get their children vaccinated against pneumonia.

Speaking with a mother who had come to Bahraich District Hospital with a 2.5 years old child suffering from pneumonia, it is clear that information and health literacy is lacking. Child’s mother said that she did get her child vaccinated but she is not aware which vaccines her child was provided after birth. Even some healthcare providers are unclear about vaccination against pneumonia. A senior Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at Bahraich District Hospital Dr PK Mishra said that he is providing DPT vaccines to the children in his government hospital and vaccination against pneumonia is not provided here. He said he is not aware of pneumonia vaccines as well.

Dr KK Verma argues that the government and the WHO must come up with vaccines that are not only effective but also affordable.

Rahul Kumar Dwivedi – CNS
(Translation: Bobby Ramakant – CNS)