The Universal Immunisation Programme in India has facilitated vaccination for children and pregnant women to protect them from preventable diseases. More babies are now known to be receiving basic vaccinations as compared to earlier. And yet, 62 per cent of children between 12-23 months received basic vaccinations while 54 per cent received all basic vaccinations by the age of 12 months, as per National Family Health Survey 2015-16. Compared to India, some other neighbouring countries like Thailand, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have reported vaccination of up to 90 per cent of children.
India, as per UNICEF, has the largest number of births in the world–more than 26 million a year–and also accounts for 20 per cent of child mortality worldwide. And one of the most efficient ways to protect mothers and children from preventable diseases is by vaccination.
One of the rising health concerns in the country is influenza. As per World Health Organisation (WHO), it is one of the 10 major threats to global health in 2019. Every year across the globe, there are an estimated one billion cases, of which three to five million are severe cases, resulting in 2,90,000 to 6,50,000 influenza-related respiratory deaths. India’s vulnerability to influenza has only increased in the past few years, making awareness about flu vaccine the need of the hour.
Express Parenting spoke to Jean-Pierre Baylet, Country Head, India and South Asia, Sanofi Pasteur, a company devoted to vaccines, about the importance of immunisation and the threat of influenza in the country.
Why is vaccination important?
There was a time when we used to have large outbreaks of small pox or polio. With vaccination, we have managed to eradicate small pox; we are on the verge of eradicating polio. Millions of babies worldwide are being protected against diseases, thanks to vaccination. Without vaccination, we would have had to cope with many more health complications in children; we would have many more disabled children than what we have today. And as World Health Organisation says, after running water, vaccination is the greatest invention, in terms of public health.
What are some of the most important vaccines that children should be given?
There are around 13-15 preventable diseases in India today, starting from polio, meningitis to measles and typhoid, among others. Whatever vaccine is available, I would recommend parents to avail them. What I mean by that is when a vaccine is approved for usage in children India, there is no reason for parents to avoid getting them for their child’s protection.
At what age should a child be vaccinated?
You can start giving some vaccines like BCG or OPV a couple of hours after birth. Most of the vaccines are given between six weeks and one year of age of the baby.
Do vaccines have side effects?
If you look at the science behind vaccines, before they are made available, they go through very large chemical trials where we test not only whether it works but also its safety. When we test for safety, we also look at whether they have any side effects. The vaccine that is approved in a country has passed all the tests and chemical trials, and is safe to be given to children and adults at a specific age.
Why is influenza vaccine important?
Since 2010, we have witnessed in India severe outbreaks of influenza. The latest was in northern India, in Delhi, Kashmir and a couple of other areas, in the beginning of the year. Almost every year over the past four years in India, we have had outbreaks of flu, especially in 2015-16. The Government of India has reported close of one lakh cases of flu and five to six thousand deaths. The amount of cases officially reported is actually very small compared to reality. Most doctors do not report cases of flu, and patients are not always tested for flu. So, there is gross under-reporting of influenza in the country. Influenza can lead to severe health conditions in people. It is also dangerous for pregnant women and can lead to either the loss of the baby or the mother’s death. So, I do believe that we need to take measures to prevent flu in India if we want to tackle child mortality and health of pregnant women.