OpinionHow vaccines against pneumonia impact the Middle East and Africa.

How vaccines against pneumonia impact the Middle East and Africa.

Dr Hammam Haridy, Pfizer MERA Senior Director Regional Medical & Scientific Affairs, Vaccines and Anti Virals.

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The pandemic has brought respiratory infections to the public dialogue – and for good reason. It educated people to be more vigilant about hygiene and to make the right choices in preventing serious complications. For example, people are now more likely to wash their hands frequently, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, and stay home when they are sick. Likewise, it also changed people’s attitudes towards respiratory infections. Many are now more likely to see respiratory infections as a serious public health threat and to take steps to protect themselves and others.

With that said, it’s important to remain vigilant of severe complications. Pneumonia is a serious lung infection that can be deadly, especially for vulnerable groups such as children under the age of 5, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions.

Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all cause pneumonia.[i] Some common causes of viral pneumonia among others are Influenza viruses, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Common causes of bacterial pneumonia are Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcus) and, especially in kids, Mycoplasma pneumonia.

Especially during a season of gatherings, staying educated about serious infections such as pneumonia is critical to ensure that you protect yourself and your loved ones. Knowing your risk, planning your response, and putting that into action is key in protecting yourself against severe respiratory infections.

Pneumonia is a serious disease.

In the Middle East and Africa region, pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death from infectious diseases in children under the age of 5. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it accounts for 14% of all deaths of children under 5 years old, killing 740 180 children in 2019[ii]. Pneumonia also causes significant morbidity and mortality in adults, especially the elderly and people with underlying health conditions.

The burden of pneumonia in the Middle East and Africa region is due to a number of factors. For example, there are high rates of poverty and malnutrition in the region[iii]. Children who are malnourished are more likely to develop pneumonia[iv] and to have more severe cases because it would exacerbate their already compromised immune system. Another factor could be the inadequate vaccine coverage. Vaccination is the best way to protect people from pneumonia – yet vaccination coverage in the Middle East and Africa region is often inadequate. This means that many people are not protected from the most common causes of pneumonia.

Vaccination is the best way to protect vulnerable groups from pneumonia.

Vaccination has been shown to be effective in reducing the burden of pneumonia. It works by exposing the body to a weakened or inactive form of a pathogen. This triggers the immune system to produce antibodies against the pathogen. When the body is exposed to the live pathogen in the future, the immune system will be able to quickly identify and fight off the infection.

Other than vaccination, there are also other ways to protect yourself and your loved ones against pneumonia, such as washing your hands. Viruses and bacteria that can lead to pneumonia are often spread via coughing, sneezing, touching, or even breathing. Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after blowing your nose, and before eating or preparing foods can reduce the spread of the infection. Likewise, it’s important to know your risk factors. The people most at risk for pneumonia are infants and young children, adults 65 or older, and people who have other health problems like lung or heart disease, and diabetes.  By knowing your risk factors, you can make informed decisions on how to protect yourself and your family this winter.

A well-protected population can improve the healthcare system and significantly improve public health and the economy.

The impact of the disease can be significant, but with the right preventative measures, societies can improve the healthcare system, public health, and the economy in a number of ways.

It can reduce the burden on healthcare resources by minimizing the number of people who develop pneumonia and require hospitalization. This frees up healthcare resources for other patients and can help to improve the quality of care for everyone. It can also reduce the cost of healthcare, as vaccinations are considered a cost-effective way to prevent severe illness. The cost of vaccinating a child against pneumonia is much lower than the cost of treating pneumonia if it develops. It can also increase productivity as vaccinated people are less likely to get sick and miss work, which can lead to increased productivity and economic growth.

Everyone has a role to play in reducing the burden of pneumonia in the Middle East and Africa region. Governments can increase investment in vaccination programs and improve access to healthcare. Healthcare providers can educate people about the importance of vaccination and provide access to vaccines. Parents can ensure that their children are vaccinated against pneumonia. And individuals can take steps to reduce their own risk of pneumonia, such as quitting smoking, adopting hygiene measures, and getting regular exercise. By working together, we can make the Middle East and Africa region a healthier place for everyone.

Dr Hammam Haridy, Pfizer MERA Senior Director Regional Medical & Scientific Affairs, Vaccines and Anti Virals.

[i] Causes of Pneumonia | CDC accessed on November 8, 2023

[ii] [iii] World Health Organization. “Pneumonia.” Fact Sheet No. 330. Updated March 2023. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/pneumonia.

 PMCID: PMC9408592.

[iv] Gamal, Y., Mahmoud, A.O., Mohamed, S.A.A. et al. Prevalence and impact of malnutrition on outcomes and mortality of under-five years children with pneumonia: a study from Upper Egypt. Eur J Pediatr 182, 4583–4593 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00431-023-05138-2

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