April 24th – April 30th (Last week of April) is observed as World Immunization Week every year. The theme for 2019 is “Protected Together: Vaccines Work!”. The aim is to promote the use of vaccines across all age groups to protect against diseases.
According to the World Health Organization(WHO), around 6.3 million children under the age of 15 years died in 2017. Of these, around 5.4 million were under the age of 5 years. It is estimated that more than half of the early child deaths are caused due to conditions which can be easily prevented or treated with simple yet affordable interventions. And immunization is one of the most effective tools to prevent severe infections in kids as well as adults. It can avert an estimated 2 to 3 million deaths every year, reveals UNICEF data.
This World Immunization Week, we share a quick insight into the need for immunization and its role in the overall health of kids, pregnant women, and adults.
What is Immunization?
Immunization is a process in which a person is administered a vaccine to protect against infectious disease. In simple terms, it makes a person immune or resistant to disease. According to the WHO, immunization saves millions of lives every year. It is known to be one of the cost-effective and successful health interventions. Even then, there are nearly 20 million unvaccinated and under-vaccinated children worldwide.
According to a 2016 study published online, India reported the highest number of deaths in children below 5 years of age all over the world, which in a majority of the cases, could have been prevented by vaccines. Untimely vaccination not only prolongs the susceptibility to disease but also contributes to the burden of childhood morbidity and mortality. Moreover, immunization during pregnancy and even in older individuals can significantly reduce the risk of infections in susceptible people.
Immunization can prevent infections, disability, and death from a wide range of vaccine-preventable diseases such as diarrhea, measles, mumps, diphtheria, rubella, polio, pertussis (whooping cough), pneumonia, tetanus, and cervical cancer.
Immunization in India: Vaccines To Protect Common Diseases
Vaccines can protect children, especially those below 5 years of age, from illness and death. Some of the common but deadly diseases in infants include measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and pneumonia.
As per the Universal Immunization Program (UIP) in India, the vaccination schedule in pregnant women, infants, and adults include:
1. Tetanus Vaccine: It is advised in pregnant women and for children above 5 years of age (preferably 10 and 16 years of age). For pregnant women, the first dose is given early in the pregnancy and the second one around 4 weeks after the first dose. It is an intramuscular vaccine which is given on the upper arm. It protects against tetanus which is a life-threatening bacterial disease that is caused by the toxin of a bacterium called Clostridium tetani. It affects a person’s nervous system and can be fatal if left untreated. Tetanus is prevented only through vaccination.
2. Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) Vaccine: This vaccine is given at birth or as early as possible until one year of age. It is given intradermally (in the skin) and on the left upper arm. It helps to prevent tuberculosis, an infectious disease which mostly affects the lungs and caused by a bacterium known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
3. Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) Vaccine: It is administered intramuscularly to prevent diseases such as meningitis (inflammation of the brain covering) and pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) which are caused by the Hib virus. It is given in three doses: At 6 weeks, 10 weeks & 14 weeks after childbirth. It is usually given along with DPT and Hepatitis B vaccines as a pentavalent vaccine.
4. Measles Vaccine: It protects against measles, which is a highly contagious viral disease caused by the measles virus. The virus affects the respiratory tract. The vaccine is given in two doses. The first one between 10 -12 months and the second dose at around 10 – 24 months. If the vaccine is not given before 12 months, then it can be given up to 5 years.
5. Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV): As the name suggests, this vaccine offers protection against deadly poliomyelitis. It is a condition that affects the nerves and leads to muscle weakness and paralysis. It is given orally (2 drops) at birth or as early as possible within the first 15 days of birth. Around three more doses are given at 6 weeks, 10 weeks & 14 weeks after the first dose. Also, a booster dose is given around 16-24 months after the first dose. Under the Pulse Polio Programme, this vaccine is mostly given free of cost to all kids below five years of age.
6. Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus (DPT) Vaccine: This vaccine is given to prevent three deadly bacterial infections namely diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus. Diphtheria causes infection in the throat and nose, whooping cough causes persistent coughing and tetanus causes tightening of the muscles. In kids, it is given in five doses with the first three doses around 6 weeks, 10 weeks & 14 weeks after birth, fourth dose (or the first booster dose) at around 16-24 months and fifth dose (or the second booster dose) at 5-6 years. Adults between 18 and 64 years who have completed their primary vaccination schedule, should get a Td booster dose every 10 years.
7. Hepatitis B (Hep B) Vaccine: This vaccine protects against hepatitis, which is a viral infection of the liver that can cause jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin). In kids, this vaccine is given in three doses namely at 6 weeks, 10 weeks & 14 weeks after birth. In adults at high risk of liver diseases such as chronic liver disease, HIV infection or those traveling to hepatitis infected areas are advised to get 3-doses of hepatitis B vaccine at 0, 1, and 6 months.
The other important vaccines which are not included as mandatory vaccines in the UIP include Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for all girls which prevents against HPV virus which can cause cervical cancer; influenza vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine for both kids and adults to prevent against the flu and pneumonia; and vaccine against rotavirus for kids to prevent diarrhea. Talk to your doctor to know more about the vaccines and stay protected against deadly diseases.
(The article is reviewed by Dr. Lalit Kanodia, General Physician)
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