Immunization can prevent costly hospitalizations for childhood pneumonia, saving money and improving health outcomes

In a global review of the costs of treating childhood pneumonia, the average costs of a hospitalized case of pneumonia in children under five years of age was US$243 in primary or secondary hospitals in low- and middle-income countries (ranging from US$40 – US$563) and US$559 in tertiary hospitals (ranging from US$20 – US$1,474). In high-income countries, the cost of hospitalized cases averaged US$2,800 in primary or secondary hospitals and more than US$7,000 in tertiary hospitals. Note that in most of these studies, only direct medical costs were included and thus total costs – including non-medical costs and lost wages – would be considerably higher.

Hospitalization for pneumonia in children causes financial burdens for families beyond medical treatment

Three studies in Bangladesh and India found that the direct medical costs for children hospitalized with pneumonia were 27% to 116% of the average monthly income of households. And, while these costs represent a major portion of a family’s monthly income, they don’t include non-medical costs, such as transport and food costs, nor the lost wages of family members who miss work to care for the child.

Immunization can prevent common illnesses that strain hospital resources

In a Bangladeshi study, pneumonia and acute diarrhea were the first and third most common reasons for childhood hospital admission with over half (54%) of the acute diarrhea admissions caused by rotavirus. One in four children taken to this large pediatric hospital were refused admission because all beds were occupied. Vaccination could have prevented children with rotavirus from requiring essential hospital resources when one in four children refused admission had symptoms of pneumonia.

Immunization can help reduce the risk of stunting caused by diarrhea in children

A pooled analysis of nine studies assessing the effects of diarrhea on stunting prior to the age of 24 months showed that the odds of stunting were significantly increased with each diarrheal episode. Each day of diarrhea prior to attaining 24 months of age also contributed to the risk of stunting. For each five episodes of diarrhea, the odds of stunting increased by 13%. In addition, once a child becomes stunted, only 6% of those stunted at 6 months of age recovered by 24 months of age.

The empowerment of women is associated with higher odds of childhood vaccinations

A systematic review of studies from countries in Africa and Southeast Asia investigated the relationship between a woman’s “agency” (defined as the woman’s ability to state her goals and to act upon them with motivation and purpose) and childhood immunizations in lower-income settings. The review found a general pattern among studies in which higher agency among mothers was associated with higher odds of childhood immunizations. Empowering women in these settings shows promise as a means to improve child health.

Empowering women can lead to greater vaccination rates in children

In a systematic review of qualitative research from low- and middle-income countries, women’s low social status was shown to be a barrier to their children accessing vaccinations. Specific barriers included access to education, income, resource allocation, and autonomous decision-making related to time. The authors suggest that expanding the responsibility for children’s health to both parents (mothers and fathers) may be one important element in removing persistent barriers to immunization often faced by mothers.

Gender gap in immunization coverage is affected by poverty, low mternal education, and birth order

A study that examined the gender gap in immunization coverage in a rural area of Bangladesh showed that poverty, low maternal education, and second or higher birth order had a stronger negative effect on the likelihood of full immunization coverage for girls compared to boys. In other words, girls from households in this area that were below the poverty line were 11% less likely to be fully immunized than boys from households below the poverty line. Girls were also 6% less likely than boys to be fully vaccinated if their mothers did not attend high school and 5% less likely than boys to be vaccinated if they were not the first born child in the family.

Respiratory infections during pregnancy may exert indirect effects on the developing fetus

Respiratory infections during pregnancy may exert indirect effects on the developing fetus through placental function and maternal immune responses. This in turn may lead to pre-term births and reduced growth of the fetus. However, a review of recent studies, researchers show that administration of influenza vaccine during pregnancy adds 200 grams to newborn weight and that PCV7 vaccine given to infants translates into an additional 500 grams of growth in the first 6 months of life. In addition, maternal influenza vaccine led to a 15% reduction in low birth-weight. This indicates that immunization can improve intrauterine growth.

Undernourished children have a higher likelihood for diarrhea and pneumonia but immunization can improve infant growth

Multiple studies show that

  1. Diarrhea and pneumonia impair children’s growth and that underlying malnutrition is a major risk factor for these conditions.
  2. “Episodes of diarrhea may predispose to pneumonia in undernourished children” and
  3. Immunization against influenza (in mothers) and Streptococcus pneumoniae may improve infant growth. In addition, new studies from Bangladesh, Colombia, Ghana, and Israel further support the paradigm that malnutrition is a key risk factor for diarrhea and pneumonia.