KARACHI : “Vaccination coverage in Sindh is around 50% which must be increased to 90% to eradicate diseases claiming lives of children in Pakistan,” said leading paediatricians in a press briefing HELD to mark World Immunization Week.

“Lack of awareness among parents is the biggest contributor to low immunization coverage in Pakistan and it is very unfortunate that despite availability of free vaccine by the government under Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI), children are dying of vaccine preventable diseases,” they regretted.

General Secretary Pakistan Paediatric Association (PPA) Dr Mumtaz Lakhani, PPA Sindh President Dr Ghulam Rasool Buriro, General Secretary Dr Khalid Shafi and President Elect Asia Pacific Paediatric Association Dr Iqbal Memon spoke on the occasion. The awareness campaign was supported by GSK Pakistan.

They said that essential Immunization helped eradicate smallpox and polio from the world and hopefully Measles will also be eradicated in near future if Rate of Essential Immunization reaches 90% or more in all developing countries including Pakistan.

They highlighted that EPI was established in 1978 and currently aims at vaccinating children aged 0-23 months against 10 targeted diseases: Childhood Tuberculosis, Polio, Diphtheria, Pertussis, Diarrhoea, Hepatitis B, aemophilus 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 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, they said that Diarrhoea and Pneumonia were 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 can 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.

Panelists demanded that age bracket for EPI should be increased to 5 years and EPI centres should also be opened in evening to increase reach and facilitate people. They also urged the government to include more vaccines to EPI program.

“Vaccines are completely safe and parents should not compromise on 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.