Beginning September 1, children in Tamil Nadu will be vaccinated against multiple diseases with a single shot.

The State is among two selected in the country, the other being Kerala, to replace five different vaccines with a single pentavalent vaccine, according to Director of Public Health R.T. Porkaipandian.

The pentavalent will encompass the regular DPT (Diphtheria, Pertusis, Tetanus) and combine it with Hepatitis B, and Hib (haemophilus influenzae type b). Earlier, DPT and Hepatitis B would be given separately as individual injections. Now, they have been combined along with the Hib vaccine, to be introduced state-wide afresh. The pentavalent vaccine will be given to 11.5 lakh infants throughout the state.

The DPT vaccine has been part of the immunisation cycle for several decades, and the Hepatitis B vaccine, for a few years.

The new Hib vaccine, it is estimated, will help reduce infant mortality by at least 5-7 per cent. The Hib organism causes acute bacterial meningitis, leading to death among 20-30 per cent of those affected. Even among those who recover, 40 per cent sustain permanent brain damage and are rendered retarded, according to experts.

The pentavalent project will be rolled out by September 1. Preparations to dispatch stocks of vaccines will begin in the last week of August, according to K. Vanaja, Joint Director, Immunisation, Directorate of Public Health. All children, during their first year of age, should receive three doses of the pentavalent vaccine with an interval of at least four weeks between them, according to a document put out online by multiple agencies, including the Hib Initiative, WHO, UNICEF, and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

However, children who have already started immunisation with DPT and Hepatitis-B will complete that schedule; they will not get the pentavalent vaccine.

Besides the obvious public health benefit of delivering multiple vaccines with a single shot, the decision to use the pentavalent vaccine, will also result in tremendous logical conveniences, and savings, according to Dr. Vanaja. With the number of vials reduced, since five vaccines are stored in a single vial, a lot of space is being freed up for storage, and transportation. Also, a single auto-disable syringe will be used instead of three per child, thereby substantially reducing the plastic and sharp waste as well.

The project will be run as a pilot in the two states as a Government of India - funded scheme. GAVI has committed to providing the vaccines free of cost. UNICEF will take up the task of procuring the vaccines and ensuring supply to Tamil Nadu and Kerala, according to Satish Kumar, who heads the organisation in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

His organisation would also be involved in all important tasks of building public awareness of the pentavalent vaccine, training health workers, and monitoring the implementation.

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