January 29, 2008
Government offers to help poorer countries to introduce vaccine against disease that kills two children every hour in Latin America
(Caracas) – The government of Venezuela announced today that it intends to introduce a pneumococcal vaccine into its national immunization program in the second half of 2008. Government officials also noted that they hope to add a vaccine against human papilloma virus in 2009, as soon as preliminary scientific and technical studies are completed.
Héctor Sarmiento, director of the immunization unit of the Ministry of Health, announced the news during the Subregional Symposium on New Vaccines in Caracas, an event convened by the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are completing studies to introduce the simplest vaccine, against pneumococcal disease, since it is more feasible both technically and financially,” said Sarmiento. “We are waiting for results to see if we can introduce it in the second half of the year. It all depends on the negotiations with PAHO’s Revolving Fund for Vaccines. We want prices to go down, so other countries can introduce the vaccine, not just Venezuela.”
In taking this step, Venezuela will become the first Latin American country to include the pneumococcal vaccine in its national immunization plan. Elsewhere in the Americas, in Canada and the United States, public health authorities are including the vaccine in the basic immunization schedule for children. Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay are introducing the vaccine gradually; Costa Rica is preparing to immunize children as part of the menu of basic vaccines each child receives.
Sarmiento noted that Venezuela’s plan goes well beyond its own borders; the government wants to join other Latin American countries in working through PAHO’s Revolving Fund, a financing initiative that provides member nations with technical and financial support for negotiating a fair price for vaccines.
“We want to create a fund that capitalizes the Rotating Fund and can help some countries that are poorer than ours,” Sarmiento said. “We will donate or give vaccines to these countries, so we can create a Latin America that is free of vaccine-preventable diseases.”
In expanding its own immunization program, Venezuela will benefit about 600,000 children under the age of one, a measure that will require an increase of almost 50% in the nation’s vaccine budget. Pneumococcal diseases, such as pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis, kill 18,000 people in Latin America every year – two children every hour. Introducing the new vaccine is intended to solve this problem, Sarmiento added.
Dr. Ciro de Quadros, executive vice-president of the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, praised the Venezuelan announcement. “This is great news for Venezuela’s children,” de Quadros said. “We hope that other countries in the region will follow suit, so we can close the gap between those who are covered by these vaccines and those who are not yet protected.”
Dr. de Quadros commended Venezuela for its offer to provide technical and financial help to other countries in the region, so they can purchase and introduce the pneumococcal vaccine. “It’s proof of the Pan-American spirit that is such a basic pillar of PAHO’s work,” de Quadros said. “Financial help is of great importance from the point of view of equity, and it will ensure that other children from the region become protected.”
Cuahtémoc Ruiz, director of PAHO’s Immunization Unit, said he was pleased with the Venezuelan announcement, adding that “this support can be incorporated into personnel training, cold chain support, laboratories, or even for vaccine purchases. The government of Venezuela has always offered this help through PAHO, so that these new opportunities can benefit the rest of the continent.”
As for the human papilloma virus vaccine, the Venezuelan official said that that he hoped that advances could be made to towards incorporating this vaccine some time next year, when additional data and studies will be available.