April 26, 2012 | The Editors

Ghana introduces two new vaccines today

I came to Ghana to support global communications around today’s unprecedented simultaneous launch of two new vaccines with my head full of ideas about the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of introducing two vaccines at once.

You can see a short video I made with the GAVI Alliance about preparations for the introduction below.

View our video to see what it takes to introduce two vaccines at once.

I work in PATH’s Vaccine Access and Delivery program on the Accelerated Vaccine Introduction initiative, a GAVI-funded project. Accelerating vaccine introductions is what we’re all about, so we’re all excited about this dual introduction of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines against the leading causes of pneumonia and diarrhea, the biggest killers of children around the world.

Getting two jobs done at once

But happy as we are to see these vaccines introduced together, a joint introduction requires far greater planning than launching a single vaccine. The vaccines must be kept cool, so cold storage capacity across the country must be expanded significantly. Health workers have to be carefully trained in how to store, transport, and administer two different types of vaccines, and parents must be educated about the benefits of both.

It’s a huge amount of work, but surely, we thought, the advantages are obvious. Several big jobs would have to be done only once: installing refrigerators, reprinting vaccine cards, training health workers—the list goes on.

But when I got to Ghana and started talking to health officials there, I realized we had missed the most important point.

The real reason

“It will save more lives,” the manager of Ghana’s Expanded Programme on Immunization, Dr. K.O. Antwi-Agyei, told me without hesitation. “We could not introduce one vaccine and then wait—while our children were dying—to introduce the other.”

“K.O.,” as everyone calls him, is one of the heroes behind this lifesaving initiative. He hasn’t taken a day off in a long time and it is clear he is tired; but his enthusiasm, and that of his team, is unflagging. He’s also a bit of a poet.

There are no excuses, he told me almost sternly, for waiting to save children’s lives, “Disease doesn’t have the temperament to wait and it doesn’t have mercy on poor people. It’s taking advantage of ‘we’re not ready.’ We in Ghana have long ago learned that ‘excuses’ are not a disease control measure.”

Meet the heroes

I am leading an international media trip around today’s launch to spread the word about the need for pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines in developing countries. I am proud to introduce the visiting journalists to Ghana’s child health heroes. You can see some of them, including K.O., and the work they are doing in the video featured above. I hope they will inspire you as they continue to inspire me.

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