New Delhi: The government may introduce Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) that protects against diseases such as pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and meningitis in a phased manner by 2017-18, said Soumya Swaminathan, director general of Indian Council of Medical Research.
PCV protects against Streptococcus pneumonia, a bacteria which can cause these illnesses. Although PCV was first introduced in 2000, five of the highest burden countries—India, Indonesia, Chad, China, and Somalia—have not been using the vaccine in their routine immunization programmes.
World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that Streptococcus pneumoniae kills close to half a million children under 5 years of age worldwide every year, with most of these deaths occurring in developing countries.
Swaminathan was addressing a panel discussion on the latest edition of The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal that has five papers covering issues such as access to effective antimicrobials, understanding the mechanisms and the drivers of antimicrobial resistance, and maximising access to achieve appropriate human antimicrobial use in low and middle-income countries.
Lack of access to antibiotics is a bigger issue than antibiotic resistance and scaling up vaccines against diseases such as pneumonia could reduce the need for antibiotics, said Ramanan Lakshminarayan who co-authored a paper about access to effective antimicrobials.
According to the paper, many of the estimated 6.3 million children aged younger than five years who died in 2013 died of preventable infectious diseases; 15% of these deaths were caused by pneumonia which is strongly correlated by availability of antibiotics.
India has the highest number of pneumonia and diarrhoea deaths among children globally, according to a report by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released earlier this month. The Lancet study estimated that 169,760 under-5 pneumonia deaths in India could be averted with universal antibiotics access.
Swaminathan added that the ministry of health and family welfare had approved the PCV, but further studies had to be carried out.
Laxminarayan, who is the vice president, Research and Policy at Public Health Foundation of India, added that there is a need for progressive policies and action before more lives are lost for want of sensible policies and public health interventions to provide access to the medications and conserve antibiotic effectiveness.
“The government through initiatives like Mission Indradhanush is working to reduce the burden of bacterial infections by improving access to sanitation and vaccination at an unprecedented scale,” he added.