The chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, has announced the introduction of the routine pneumococcal vaccine into the childhood immunization programme , with a motive to prevent children from falling ill, and thus saving many lives.
The pneumococcal infection, upon entering the blood stream, can cause health complications, as grave as meningitis, septicemia (blood poisoning) and pneumonia. Almost 50 young lives under age 2 are lost to pneumococcal infections in England and Wales every year.
Sir Liam Donaldson said: "Pneumococcal infection can cause very serious illness such as meningitis and pneumonia as well as being one of the most common bacterial causes of ear infections."The under 2s are a particular risk group. The new vaccine will save lives and prevent hundreds more cases of serious illness and disability in both the young and old as well as reducing the need for medical care.'
The US is already witness to the immense benefits of this programme that has brought down the rates of this infection by 94% among young children alone. Sir Liam has additionally introduced changes to the Meningitis C and Hib disease, basically rescheduling the intervals of vaccination to three and four months of age with a booster dose at 12 months. The rescheduling has been done to gain the highest protection possible against the disease. This move follows the latest evidence that suggests decline in the efficacy of the vaccine a year after vaccination, making the child vulnerable to the disease. Children under age 2 are more susceptible to the disease.
Additionally, a booster dose of Hib vaccine is being included in the childhood immunization programme, as a routine at 12 months to extend protection against Hib disease.
Philip Kirby, Chief Executive of the Meningitis Trust said: "Vaccination is the only way to prevent meningitis and we welcome this announcement as it will help save lives. Pneumococcal meningitis is a devastating disease - 20% of those who get it will die and a further 25% will suffer severe after-effects."
The new vaccines are slated to hit the market in 2006/07. More information on the latest immunization schedule is available at http://www.immunisation.nhs.uk.