Indonesia has a low rate of influenza vaccination because immunization shots are expensive, experts say.
Samsuridjal Djauzi, a professor at the medical department of the University of Indonesia, said Indonesia currently ranked low among countries in Asia and the Pacific in the use of the seasonal influenza vaccine.
He cited data published in the newsletter of the Asia-Pacific Advisory Committee on Influenza ( APACI ) in August 2007, which said that South Korea ranked the highest in the region with 311 vaccines per 1,000 people.
Samsuridjal presented the data at a press conference for an influenza symposium on Saturday, and said Singapore could cover 90 vaccines per 1,000 citizens.
“Thailand is able to distribute 1 vaccine per 1,000. Indonesia is less than that,” he said.
Influenza is a contagious infectious disease that can be divided into two types, seasonal influenza and pandemic influenza.
Pharmaceutical company Sanofi Pasteur said seasonal influenza is caused by influenza viruses such as H1N1 and H3N2, and attacks the respiratory system, while pandemic influenza occurs when the virus spreads and infects a large number of people.
People usually misunderstand influenza as only an influenza-like illness, such as the common cold, because of their similar symptoms like fever, headache, muscle pain, sore throat, cold and cough.
The big difference is that influenza is caused by the influenza virus and influenza-like illnesses are caused by cytokine proteins, which are produced by the body’s immune system.
The World Health Organization ( WHO ) reported there are at least three to five million people in the world infected by influenza. The disease also causes 250,000 to 500,000 deaths every year.
Influenza can attack people of any age.
Samsuridjal said most people can recover from influenza without medical treatment.
“Influenza in some people can cause complications such as pulmonary disease, particularly for the elderly,” he said.
He added that children, pregnant women and people with chronic diseases such as HIV or cardiovascular disease also have high risks for complications caused by influenza.
“Influenza immunization is important because it can be preparation in facing a possible pandemic. People who have the seasonal influenza vaccine will be less exposed to pandemic influenza,” Samsuridjal said.
Cissy Kartasasmita, a professor at the medical faculty of Padjajaran University, said the main obstacle to immunizations was a misperception among society that influenza was the common cold and the vaccine will only produce the flu.
The cost of the vaccine also plays a big role in hampering immunizations.
In Indonesia, the influenza vaccination is more than Rp 100,000 ( US$12 ).
Cissy said the vaccination must be given once a year because the influenza virus changes constantly, forcing further research and development of the vaccine.
“We should be glad that [state-owned pharmaceutical company] Bio Farma is already able to produce the vaccine. New vaccines are expensive because they need research, which is costly. However, I think if the vaccine is produced many times and more people demand it, the price will be cheaper,” she said.
Cissy said that an Indonesia Pediatrician Association task force for immunization has included the influenza vaccine into the immunization schedule for children since 2006.
The task force also suggested the vaccine be given annually since six months of age, in accordance with the WHO’s suggestion. ( rcf )