Pakistan on Friday began vaccinating millions of children against typhoid fever, a dangerous bacterial infection that can spread through contact or contaminated food and water, in an effort to contain a drug-resistant outbreak of the disease that has infected around 11,000 people since 2016.
The new vaccine that is being distributed can prevent typhoid fever infection for up to five years. Health practitioners began administering the shot in the southern Sindh province to children aged between nine months and 15 years old, Reuters reported. Officials plan for the new vaccine to become part of routine childhood immunizations by 2021.
“Beginning the vaccination in urban areas is critical in preventing the disease among the communities most at risk,” Azra Fazal Pechuho, Sindh’s provincial minister for health, said in a statement, Reuters reported.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), typhoid fever is a life-threatening illness caused by the Salmonella Typhi bacteria.
Symptoms include weakness, stomach pain, headache, diarrhea or constipation, cough and loss of appetite. It can also cause pink spots on the chest. The disease is especially threatening to children in developing countries.
In a recent alert, the CDC warned “travelers to Pakistan and other South Asian countries” to take precautions against the drug-resistant typhoid fever outbreak, also noting that typhoid cases related to travel to Pakistan have been reported in other countries including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Australia.
The new typhoid vaccine currently being administered in Pakistan was approved by the World Health Organization last year. The vaccination campaign was funded by the GAVI vaccine alliance, which describes itself as a “public-private global health partnership committed to increasing access to immunization in poor countries.”
According to GAVI CEO Seth Berkley, typhoid fever was a “terrifying disease in the past,” and he warned that “the rise of extreme drug resistant typhoid risks bringing us back to levels of mortality not seen since the 19th century – posing a risk to all of us.”