World Immunisation Week
Leith Greenslade, Coordinator of the Every Breath Counts Coalition stresses the need for continuous immunisation to pneumonia in developing countries to provide protection from co-infections that can significantly increase the risk of death from COVID-19.
COVID-19 and the race to immunisation – are we all Equal?
This week is World Immunisation Week. Organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) it is an opportunity to highlight the great success of, but urgent need for, vaccines. The relevance of World Immunisation Week cannot be overstated this year, as the whole world waits for a COVID-19 vaccine.
As the pandemic has progressed across the world, it has been recognised that, far from a ‘great leveller’, coronavirus is exacerbating existing health inequalities. Initial concerns regarding inequalities focused on the spread of COVID-19 in developing countries, as already stretched health systems would suffer from the burden of a pandemic and result in high mortality rates. However, this was followed by accounts of disproportionate death rates among the BAME population in the UK, reminding us that health inequalities are not just a problem found overseas.
Medical research is one area which faces its own challenges, with representation dominated by certain socio-demographic and ethnic groups. Annette Jack, Account Director, explores in her blog on whether the UK’s clinical trials for a vaccine will proportionally represent the BAME community who have been disproportionality impacted by the condition.
But first, Leith Greenslade, Coordinator of the Every Breath Counts Coalition stresses the need for continuous immunisation to pneumonia in developing countries to provide protection from co-infections that can significantly increase the risk of death from COVID-19. The Every Breath Counts coalition came together with a clear purpose: to end childhood pneumonia by 2030.
Zero Dose PCV Children – urgent need for pneumonia immunisation in the COVID-19 context
Children living in countries that do not offer the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) are dangerously exposed to pneumonia, the biggest infectious killer in the world. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, pneumonia killed an estimated 2.6 million people each year – more than any other infectious disease. Post COVID-19 this number will rise exponentially. In this context, it is vital that all countries are protecting their most vulnerable populations with every tool available to prevent pneumonia from any causes.
The pneumococcal vaccine is one of the most powerful and effective tools we have to prevent pneumonia, because it targets the leading bacterial cause – Streptococcus pneumoniae.
All vulnerable populations deserve to be protected with the pneumococcal vaccine, but this is even more critical during a pandemic of viral pneumonia. High coverage of this vaccine not only reduces the risk of bacterial pneumonia among children and the elderly, but provides protection from co-infections that can significantly increase the risk of death from COVID-19 and reduces demands on already stretched health systems.
It is important to remember that most deaths during the 1918 influenza outbreak were due to subsequent bacterial infection, particularly with Streptococcus pneumoniae. Similarly, poor outcomes in the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic were associated with bacterial co-infections.
Currently, there are 54 zero dose PCV countries in every region of the world. The Western Pacific region is home to 290 million (67%) zero dose PCV children, followed by the Eastern Mediterranean with 67 million (16%), and Africa with 27 million (6%). The cost of this exposure is ultimately measured in children’s lives lost due to pneumonia – an estimated 90,000 every year in the zero dose PCV countries, or 10% of all pneumonia deaths among children under 15.
Most of the zero dose PCV countries have confirmed COVID-19 caseloads that are rising exponentially. COVID-19 has shown the world that all countries need national strategies to prevent and control pneumonia, especially among their most vulnerable populations.
As part of our Health Insider series MHP Health, Account Director, Annette Jack explores the disproportionate impact of COVID on the BAME community, and questions how we ensure fair representation of these groups in UK clinical trials. Read more here.