LAHORE: Lives of millions of children in the largest province of the country are at risk owing to the lack of the booster dose of DTaP vaccine against diphtheria, Pakistan Today has learnt.
While the authorities announced to introduce the vaccination in the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) from January, no children have yet been vaccinated.
The DTaP is one of the vaccinations for prevention of diphtheria – a fatal disease – among the ten vaccines for children under EPI, but unfortunately, the children in Punjab have not been vaccinated.
Sources in the Health Department informed Pakistan Today that the first vaccine of diphtheria is given to children aged 6 to 14 weeks, while the second dose is given at the age of 22 months. However, they said that according to international practices, children must be vaccinated with the booster dose repeatedly before the age of five, but no booster dose was being provided in the country thereafter.
They said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had made it mandatory to provide every child with the booster dose, but the authorities in Punjab remained unconcerned over the issue. They added that due to not being vaccinated, everyone’s life was at risk because the fatal disease may strike at any time of one’s life.
Diphtheria is a disease that can cause a thick covering in the back of the throat and lead to breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and even death.
A senior official of the EPI said that in Pakistan, kids were vaccinated to prevent only 10 diseases, but in developed countries, the children were being vaccinated against 30 diseases. Speaking to this scribe, he lamented, “Authorities are more concerned to start other development projects while the lives of millions of children are at risk”. He added that the immunity of this vaccination lasts for four years and after that, the child is once again exposed to the disease.
When contacted, EPI Director Dr Muneer Ahmed told that the department was all set to introduce the booster vaccine as it had purchased vaccines worth Rs445 million. He informed that the dose was not given to children as it was not a part of the scheduled programme, but Punjab rescheduled the immunisation programme last year.
Ahmed said that under the programme, children of four to five years of age would be vaccinated with the dose and an estimated 3,500,000 of them would be vaccinated. Admitting that diphtheria can be fatal, he said that it can strike at any age and everyone can be given the dose after every ten years. However, he avoided commenting that why was it not been given to the people in Pakistan.