A new infants’ vaccine has been added to the Ministry of Health’s National Immunisation Schedule for children.

The pneumococcal vaccine (pronounced new-mo-cock-ul), will be introduced in January 2009 and will be administered to infants under 12 months of age. It will be given along with other regular vaccines on the schedule.

This addition will bring about changes in the immunisation schedule that will see children receiving their first vaccine at two months, the second at four months, and the third at six months; as opposed to three months, four and a half months and six months, respectively.

Pneumococcal diseases are caused by the bacterium (germ) streptococcus pneumonia. Some of the main conditions are pneumonia (lung infection), and meningitis (brain infection) – often leading to deafness and brain damage, blood infection and ear infection.

Senior Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Ferdinand, said: “The World Health Organisation estimates that every year pneumococcal infections kill more than one million children under the age of five, with the majority of these cases occurring in developing countries. Infections with this bacterium can cause serious illness and death, especially among children under two years old, who are often at risk.”

She added: “Since this vaccine helps to protect against some of the main causes of death in children, such as pneumonia and blood infections, it has the potential to save many lives.”

Pneumococcus bacteria are spread from person to person through close contact, especially in crowded living conditions. The modes of transmission include droplet infection from discharges of the nose and throat, direct kissing and the sharing of utensils, towels and linen.

Symptoms include high fever, cough, irritability, poor feeding in infants, lack of appetite in the elderly and lethargy.

Since the pneumococcal vaccine was introduced in the USA and Europe in 2000, no severe adverse effects have been associated with it.

The vaccine will be administered by injection (a shot) in the baby’s thigh.

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