Local groups call to review childhood vaccination program

Thursday, March 26, 2009
Issue 652, Page 3
Word count: 589
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Two local associations yesterday called on the government to update its childhood immunisation policy as a survey showed that parents have limited knowledge of the highly contagious pneumococcal diseases.

The diseases, which are caused by infections from a bacterium commonly known as pneumococcus, usually spread among children through coughing or sneezing, with those below two years of age being more vulnerable to infections.

Invasive pneumococcal infections could lead to fatal complications such as pneumonia, sepsis and also meningitis which may cause death within 24 hours at a rate of up to 60 percent.

The survey on parents’ awareness of pneumococcal diseases, conducted by the Women’s General Association of Macau (AGMM) between September and October last year, interviewed 454 respondents whose children go to the six nurseries under AGMM.

The women’s group together with the Macao Association of Medical Volunteers (MAMV) announced the findings at a press conference yesterday.

It was found that despite more than 90 percent of the parents having heard of pneumococcus, nearly half of them are neither aware of the bacteria’s high antibiotic resistance nor the fact that symptoms of early pneumococcal diseases are similiar to those of influenza namely fever, tiredness, coughing, headache and shivering.

The two associations hence will hand in the survey report to the Health Bureau, in a bid to show the necessity of conducting regular reviews on its immunisation program and incorporating new disease vaccines, and in this case the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), into the program for newborns and young children.

MAMV general assembly chairman Dr Pak Ki-man said that “although Macau is a modern and advanced city, it still lags behind many developed countries in its vaccination program.”

In neighbouring Hong Kong, children under the age of two will be given PCVs at no charge starting September 1 this year.

Macau does not yet have accurate data available concerning the could-be lethal diseases, but Dr Pak referred to the statistics in Hong Kong which he said were still valuable as “living environment and habits in the two SARs are close to each other.”

According to the information, about 29 percent of children between two and three years old are found to be pneumococcal disease carriers.

At the same time, a report from the University of Hong Kong Centre of Infection estimated that of every 100,000 children, 23.7 have been hospitalised due to invasive pneumococcal infections.

However, antibiotics such as erythromycin and penicillin, which are the most common type of treatment for pneumococcal diseases, may not be fully effective in treating such bacterial infections.

Dr Pak said antibiotic resistance of pneumococcus is as high as 40 to 72 percent, with Hong Kong having the highest rate in the world.

Correct diagnosis is also made difficult as incubation of bacteria takes time, which may delay effective medical treatments, he added.

Thus, in addition to keeping personal and environmental hygiene as well as a healthy diet, Dr Pak said the vaccine, according to the World Health Organization, is the “most reasonable and effective means to control the spread of both antibiotic resistance and infectious diseases.”

At present, pneumococcal conjugate vaccines are available through references from private clinics in Macau.

Infants from six weeks old to children under the age of nine are suitable to receive the vaccines.

In response to the survey findings and the recent influenza cases reported in local nurseries and schools, AGMM vice president Chan Hung said they are going to launch an educational campaign in order to enhance parents and teaching staff’s knowledge of public and family health.

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