Nina A. Loasana, Jakarta – The government is set to expand the rollout of the rotavirus vaccine to prevent diarrheal diseases in infants nationwide starting Tuesday, as it seeks to further curb infant fatalities.
Health Ministry spokesperson Muhammad Syahril said that since last year the government had rolled out rotavirus shots in 21 cities across 18 provinces out of a total of 38 provinces, vaccinating more than 196,000 babies.
"We decided to include the rotavirus vaccine [as part of the national basic childhood immunization] due to the high mortality rate from diarrhea in toddlers," he said in a statement on Monday.
Diarrhea is among the most common ailments among infants and one of the leading causes of fatalities in babies.
Research in 2017 from the Rotavirus Surveillance Network (IRSN) revealed that 45 percent of hospitalizations of infants were caused by acute watery diarrhea caused by rotavirus, a very contagious virus that causes inflammation of the stomach and intestines, known as gastroenteritis.
In Indonesia, diarrhea leads to 9.8 percent of infant fatalities under the age of one and 4.5 percent of child fatalities under five years old.
The rotavirus vaccine will be given to babies aged two-six months old in three doses, with an interval of four weeks between each dose, according to Syahril.
The government has been adding more vaccines to its basic childhood immunization campaigns in recent years as it seeks to place more emphasis on preventive instead of curative treatments in addressing the country's health challenges.
Aside from the rotavirus vaccine, the government also introduced two other vaccines for children last year – the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for cervical cancer and the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) for pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia and sinus infections.
In Indonesia, cervical cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer after breast cancer. The country recorded more than 36,000 new cases of cervical cancer in 2020, or about 9 percent of the more than 396,000 cancer cases recorded over the same period, according to the Global Cancer Observatory (GCO). GCO data also showed that more than 21,000 women died from cervical cancer in 2020.
Meanwhile, pneumonia is among the key contributors to long-term nutritional deficiency complications such as stunting and malnutrition in children.
Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin previously said that adding the PCV and rotavirus vaccines to the basic childhood immunization program was part of the government's efforts to significantly reduce the prevalence of stunting from 24.4 to 14 percent by 2024.
There are currently 14 types of vaccines given to children as part of the national childhood immunization campaigns, which include DPT-HB-Hib shots for diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B, pneumonia and meningitis, polio vaccine, measles and rubella vaccines.
Aside from adding more types of vaccines, the government is also trying to improve childhood immunization rates following a backslide caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of children not receiving basic immunization rose from 10 percent in 2019 to 26 percent in 2021.
As of April, only 4.02 percent of the country's 4.3 million children under a year old had received complete basic immunization, far below the Health Ministry target of 33 percent in the first quarter of 2023 and 100 percent by the end of the year.
The ministry launched a two-phase catch-up vaccination campaign last year to address this issue. The ministry is also cooperating with the Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Ministry to organize door-to-door vaccinations and is working together with the Education, Culture, Research and Technology Ministry to offer vaccination in schools.