“DON’T WAIT – VACCINATE”: South Africans urged to ensure all vaccines are up to date
September is Pharmacy Month and the theme for 2017 is “Don’t wait – vaccinate” – with the aim being to raise awareness of the importance of vaccines to prevent what are essentially avoidable illnesses.
In light of Pharmacy Month and this year’s theme, the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) is reminding South Africans of the importance of vaccines and their ability to prevent the spread of infectious and potentially deadly diseases – not just for infants but throughout one’s life – and is urging everyone to ensure that they and their families are up to date on their vaccinations.
Vaccines for babies and small children
“The development of vaccines, which since the 19th century has helped fight numerous deadly diseases such as whooping cough, measles, polio, tetanus, yellow fever, typhus, and hepatitis B, among many others, revolutionized healthcare. By 1980, smallpox was declared extinct due to persistent and consistent vaccination programmes.,” says Jackie Maimin, CEO of the ICPA. Vaccinations during infancy and early childhood lay the foundation for a healthy immune system by creating resistance to debilitating, and at times life threatening illnesses.
The ICPA advise that there are other vaccines for children available which are not currently provided by the State via the EPI Vaccination Schedule – these include:
- Influenza (flu) vaccine.
- Chickenpox (Varicella) vaccine.
- Hepatitis A vaccine.
- Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR) vaccine.
- Meningococcal vaccine.
Vaccines are not just for babies – immunisations recommended post childhood
Vaccines are often thought of as something mainly received in childhood, but people of all ages need to be aware of the benefits of immunization, and by getting vaccinated help protect friends, family members, and the greater population at the same time – something referred to as “herd immunity”.
The ICPA state that adolescents and adults can benefit greatly from both booster vaccines that enhance the effect of immunizations they may (or may not) have received in childhood, and recently-developed vaccines that prevent or decrease the severity of ailments likely to be encountered later in life.
Below are some examples of vaccinations recommended for adolescents and adults:
“The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is generally recommended for females between the ages of 11 to 27. The HPV vaccine specifically protects against strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer. HPV is one of the most common sexually-transmitted infections, so early vaccination is recommended to build immunity before potential exposure,” explains Maimin.
“The Meningococcal vaccine protects against organisms that cause meningitis, and can be given to infants or pre-teens. A booster may be required during the early adult years, particularly for those who will be living in close quarters with others (such as a dormitory or residence), where exposure is more likely.”
“Individuals should receive a booster Tdap vaccine every ten years to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Booster vaccines are especially important for those who are pregnant, or spend time with infants, young children, or people with weakened immune systems.”
“Adolescents and adults who are at risk of contracting the disease Hepatitis A, and were not vaccinated as a child should consider receiving the Hepatitis A vaccine. Transmission of the hepatitis A virus usually occurs through the consumption of contaminated water or food.”
Maimin advises that adults who have never had chicken pox or a previous chicken pox vaccine should get the Varicella vaccine. “Chicken pox infection can manifest in later life as “shingles” which presents as a painful rash, often with a fever, upset stomach, and chills. Older adults are more prone to a complication which results in severe and often debilitating neuropathic pain in the area of their shingles rash even after the rash has healed.”
“Adults over age 65 should also be vaccinated against streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria to decrease the risk of pneumonia. Additionally, adults who smoke or have asthma should also consider Pneumonia vaccination.”
“People who have chronic illnesses such as asthma, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes can develop serious complications from vaccine preventable illnesses. It is recommended that you have all your routine adult vaccines, and additional ones such as the flu shot, up to date should you suffer from a chronic illness,” says Maimin.
Vaccines recommended before falling pregnant
The ICPA caution that before becoming pregnant, you should be up to date on routine adult vaccines which will help protect you and your baby. “Before your pregnancy, talk to your health care professional about your vaccine history and make sure you are up to date.”
“It is very important for women who are thinking of starting a family to ensure they have been immunised against German Measles before becoming pregnant. Rubella infection during pregnancy can cause babies to have serious birth defects with devastating, life-long consequences, or even die before birth,” warns Maimin. “You can have a pre-pregnancy blood test to see if you are immune to the disease.”
“Immunisation against Hepatitis B is also very important before pregnancy as a baby whose mother has hepatitis B is at increased risk of becoming infected during delivery. Talk to your health care professional about getting tested for hepatitis B.”
Vaccines for Pregnant Women
Women should always try and get their immunisation schedule up-to-date before becoming pregnant but that is not always possible and as such the ICPA advises that the following two vaccines may be administered during pregnancy if indicated:
“During pregnancy you may get the flu vaccine to protect yourself and your baby from the flu. A pregnant woman who gets the flu is at increased risk for serious complications and hospitalization compared to other adults. When mothers are vaccinated during pregnancy, babies are also less likely to get the flu and serious flu-related complications like pneumonia after they are born.”
“Pregnant women may also get the tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap). Mothers who have been vaccinated against these diseases pass their immunity, as antibodies against these infections, to their unborn child. These antibodies are vital to protect the new born from whooping cough (pertussis) until they are old enough to get vaccinated themselves. Whooping cough can be life-threatening for young babies.”
Maimin goes on to say that mothers who have not received Tdap during pregnancy should be vaccinated right after delivery. Family and others who spend time with the baby should also receive the whooping cough vaccine.”
Vaccines recommended for everyone
Some vaccinations are recommended for all age groups. The ICPA provide some examples:
Seasonal Immunisations: An annual flu vaccine is recommended for individuals over 6 months of age. As flu viruses mutate regularly, a yearly flu shot is necessary to ensure you are protected against the most common strain of flu circulating during that season.
Travel Immunizations: Individuals travelling to other countries should consult their healthcare providers for guidance on necessary vaccinations. Understanding common conditions and vaccinations in the region where you are travelling can help ensure you are prepared – and protected.
“Vaccines reduce the incidences of severe illnesses and save lives of all ages. Nearly every independent community pharmacy in South Africa offers a clinic service where people can go to get immunized. It offers a safe, convenient and affordable way to keep up to date on immunizations. Pharmacy clinics utilise the services of competent professionals, such as nursing sisters or pharmacists trained in immunisation techniques, to provide vaccinations,” concludes Maimin.