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Pneumococcal vaccine available free

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 11 – All children under one year of age will now be required to have mandatory pneumococcal vaccine to prevent pneumonia, meningitis and ear infections.

According to the Ministry of Public Health, this will prevent at least 30,000 deaths caused by pneumonia in children annually in Kenya.

The Director of Public Health Dr Shahnaaz Sharif said on Friday that the vaccine would be available free of charge in all government health facilities.

"We are putting mechanisms to make sure that those vaccines are available all over the country. We are also providing it to the private sector and they will now charge for the services only but not the vaccine," he said.

The vaccine is currently available in private hospitals at a cost of Sh15,000 for the three doses but the price will now go down once the government begins distribution in the private health facilities.

Addressing a news conference, Dr Sharif said that Kenya would be the first country in Africa to introduce the new pneumococcal vaccine (PCV10) as part of routine immunisation.

The Head Division of Vaccination and Immunisation Dr Tatu Kamau said the vaccine would be administered to children below one year.

"However, under one begins from six weeks so if you have a child between six weeks of age and 12 months, that is the target group that we are asking for," Dr Kamau said.

"A child who is 11 months will still get three doses but will get it at 11 months, and one dose after every month for the next two months.  A child who is already 13 months will not get it," she explained.

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The vaccine which is injectable will be given at the same time as pentavalent vaccine which is a multi dose of five vaccines that immunise against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, HIB and Hepatitis B.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation has committed to grant Sh3.2 billion shillings annually for the next five years to assist in procuring the vaccine which is said to be up to 85 percent effective.

Pneumococcal disease or infection is caused by a bacterium that causes a range of illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis and ear infections.

"Pneumococcal infections are hard to treat because some strains of the bacteria have become resistant to drugs that are used to treat them," World Health Organisation Kenya representative Dr Abdulahi Jack said.

The vaccine is said to have no serious side effects apart from mild reactions like crying and irritability. Also, the injection site may swell and become painful and some children may suffer fever after the vaccination.

Children with severe illness, as determined by a health worker (with a fever above 39°C) should wait until their condition improves before being vaccinated.

Older children and adults with special conditions may receive a different pneumococcal vaccine (PPV23) although it is not available in the routine program.

Symptoms of pneumonia include cough, fever and difficulties in breathing.

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