Nov 20, 2008 News
Guyana has begun a heightened immunization exercise which by the first quarter of next year will see infants throughout the country being vaccinated for the first time against Pneumococcal and Rotavirus infections.
The pneumococcal vaccine (or pneumo vaccine for short) protects against pneumococcal infection.
This infection can cause diseases such as pneumonia, septicemia and meningitis in children. Rotavirus is an intestinal virus that infects virtually all children by three years of age.
It is the most common cause of diarrhea in children. The illness often also includes fever and vomiting, lasting a week or longer, and can cause persistent infection in immuno-compromised people. Most rotavirus infections are mild, but about 1 in 50 cases develop severe dehydration.
The introduction of these two vaccines will bring Guyana on par with the many other countries in the Caribbean that offer them.
According to Health Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy, children, as well as adults with immuno-suppressed conditions, will also be able to receive immunization for whopping cough. While Guyana is not known to have a prevalence of whooping cough, in recent times there have been reports of isolated cases – especially in the hinterland regions – which are believed to be due to cross border activity.
As such, those deemed most vulnerable to contracting the disease – infants and persons with compromised immune systems -will be vaccinated.
“We don’t have whooping cough here, but because of the constant flow of visitors to the country, people bring it in… so we have begun vaccinating those with suppressed immuno systems as well as new born babies.”
For the last four decades, children have been accessing immunization against whooping cough as part of the pentavalent vaccine, given during early clinical visits.
The pentavalent vaccine is a combination of five vaccines; diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B (the bacteria that causes meningitis, pneumonia and otitis). This means that persons born more than twenty years ago would not have been exposed to the vaccination.
Minister Ramsammy however assured that once an individual has a healthy immune system they are not at risk of contracting the virus. A few cases of whooping cough were diagnosed in 2000 at Gunn’s Strip in Region Nine and last year there was one instance where an infant delivered at a city hospital was diagnosed with the viral infection.
It was later discovered that the family had hosted a visiting relative from the United States whom it is suspected was responsible for passing on the infection.
The countrywide vaccination exercise will also involve dispersing the yellow fever booster shot to Guyanese. This vaccine which was introduced in Guyana in 1998 provides immunity for just about ten years.
“It’s time for us to dispense the booster shot across the country and we hope that Guyanese will recognize the importance of receiving this inoculation and come out to access it,” Minister Ramsammy said.
Guyana’s immunization coverage has been consistently high in the past years and the country was recently lauded by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) for its excellent performance in this regard.
According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF estimates, the coverage stands at approximately 96%.
According to Minister Ramsammy, the national immunization programme objectives are to ensure that a consistent and adequate supply of vaccines, syringes and needles are procured each year on a timely basis, expand the programme with the introduction of new vaccines, increase the uniformity of coverage at the regional, sub-regional, district and village level, strengthen national surveillance activities in order to control and eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases, enhance communication and reporting between all levels of the health system, conduct timely outbreak control investigations, strengthen active surveillance, specifically for vaccine-preventable diseases, and strengthen the surveillance capacity of the national laboratory system.
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