Babies Need Vaccination Protection from Pneumonia: Thoughts on World Pneumonia Day

November 11, 2011
by Dr. Kate O’Brien, GAVI Alliance ally and guest blogger

I’m an infectious disease pediatrician. We’re supposed to know what to do when a baby has pneumonia. I’ve treated hundreds of cases, but this time was different. When it’s your own infant, none of that experience matters.

Jack looked at me with what seemed like panic in his eyes. Coughing, crying, breathing fast, sleeping in fits and spurts. Babies aren’t supposed to breath that fast. It was the day before Christmas, and I just kept telling myself that he’d be better soon. I was sure we both had influenza. Exhausted, with muscle aches. Every time I coughed it felt like sandpaper scraping over my trachea. But since I’m an infectious disease doctor, of course we were vaccinated, right? Well, apparently that wasn’t true this year. I had every intention of getting that done weeks earlier, but life got in the way.

We called our neighbors in the middle of the night to care for our two-year old while we drove to the hospital with Jack. So many times I was that doctor we were about to meet in the emergency room; I would scratch my head wondering, “Why did they wait the whole day and decide finally to come in the middle of the night?” Well, now I knew. Sometimes it doesn’t get better. Jack had pneumonia and needed antibiotics. 

Every day of every year, millions of children get pneumonia and struggle to breathe. More than a million of these children don’t get the treatment they need and die. Every day of every year, something unimaginable happens to mothers when their child dies of pneumonia. Moreover, over 90% of childhood pneumonia deaths occur in poor African and Asian nations. It’s senseless.

Vaccines against the two biggest pneumonia-causing bacteria, Hib and pneumococcus, combined with other simple strategies can prevent these child deaths. This year, on World Pneumonia Day on November 12, look at the children in your life and talk about getting them vaccinated.

The GAVI Alliance (the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) is helping give mothers and families the same opportunity we have for kids to be vaccinated, at a faster rate than ever before for any vaccine. At a time when the world seems to be more complicated than ever, this seems like a pretty sensible thing to do.

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