PRAGUE – Vaccination of children against pneumococcal diseases would save millions of lives all over the world. This was announced by the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE) at today’s seminar in Prague. Pneumococcal disease causes pneumonia, encephalitis or barotitis. 400 cases of pneumonia are confirmed each year in the Czech Republic, and 14% of the infected children below five years of age die. “While 16 countries of the EU have already introduced routine vaccination, the Czech Republic is falling behind,” P. Krizova of the State Health Institution said.

In the Czech Republic, only those at risk are vaccinated, i.e. children with limited immunity. This comes to annual number of 3 to 4 thousand children according to H. Cabrnochova, a pediatrician. The experts have not yet managed to assert national vaccination, even though it is fully recommended by the WHO. The Ministry of Health considers the vaccination against pneumococcus to be a priority, but it will probably be asserted in 2009 at the earliest.

“It took years before we convinced our colleagues about the necessity of vaccination against hepatitis B and hemophilia,” the main hygienist Michael Vít said. According to him, the vaccination budget will have to be at least doubled, which is not easy to assert. From January 2008 on, the updated monitoring system of the pneumococcal diseases will be implemented, which should provide more precise data regarding the rate of illness and applicability of the vaccine.

Pneumococcal diseases are often hard to identify and therefore they can easily be underestimated by both parents and doctors. That is what happened at the beginning of August in the Benesov area, where a three- year- old boy died in his sleep after having been dismissed from the hospital. Even in case the child survives the pneumococcal infection, the disease can still have permanent effects. At 2.5 years, the son of the Kalovsky family fell ill. He survived the disease, but became deaf. Consequently, the Kalovskys established the Nahlas foundation, which provides information on pneumococcus and its prevention.

The experts recommend to all parents to get their children vaccinated against pneumococcus. Infants and toddlers are most vulnerable. The Rosalio Association warns against the downsides of vaccination. “Vaccines against pneumococcus can cause neurological problems to one out of 300 children,” Jan Trasák said. “The parents should always ask for the information leaflets, which are not readily available.”

One dose costs approximately CZK 1850 and four are needed. Some health insurance companies provide some assistance from their prevention funds. For example, in October Všeobecná zdravotní pojišťovna (VZP) extended the group of children, whose parents will receive the contribution of CZK 800. The age limit has been reduced from 2 to 1 year and the insurance company has also relaxed the condition saying, that it must be a child, who has got over at least 4 respiration system inflammations over the given year.

Pneumococcal infections present a great problem in the third world. Pneumonia itself causes more deaths than AIDS, malaria and measles together. Annually, 150 million cases of pneumonia in children below 5 are recorded in the third world, which represents 95% of all new cases all over the world. Yearly, the pneumococcal bacterial infections kill 1.6 million people, 50% of whom are children below 5 years of age.