Immunization saves millions of lives and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions.
As World Immunisation Week (24 – 30 April) and African Vaccination Week (23 – 29 April) are celebrated this month, the focus is firmly on dispelling the myths that abound about vaccinations and on promoting the widespread use of vaccines to protect people of all ages, and especially children and the elderly from easily preventable diseases.
According to the World Health organisation (WHO) routine immunization is a building block of strong primary health care and universal health coverage—it provides a point of contact for health care at the beginning of life and offers every child the chance at a healthy life from the start. Immunization is also a fundamental strategy in achieving other health priorities, from controlling viral hepatitis, to curbing antimicrobial resistance, to providing a platform for adolescent health and improving antenatal and newborn care.
In support of Africa Vaccination Week and World Immunisation Week, the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA), is urging all South African parents to ensure that their children’s immunisations are up to date and to make use of convenient clinics in their local community pharmacies to get vaccinated.
Jackie Maimin, CEO of ICPA, provides some of the basic facts about vaccines:
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines contain either:
- Non-infectious fragments of bacteria or viruses,
- Whole live bacteria or viruses that have been weakened so that they cannot cause disease,
- A toxin that is produced by the bacteria that has been rendered harmless (called a toxoid).
“When vaccines are introduced into the body (usually by injection) they stimulate the body’s immune system to fight against that disease, without the person actually getting the illness. Once the immune system has been activated by the vaccine it recognises any future invasion by that particular virus or bacteria and is able to mount a rapid and effective immune response before the infectious agent can establish itself within the body and cause disease,” explains Maimin.
Why must we vaccinate against rare diseases that have been almost eradicated?
“Diseases such as diphtheria and polio are rarely encountered today largely because of widespread vaccination programmes. It is essential however to continue to vaccinate until a particular disease is completely eradicated before we stop vaccinating. These diseases are extremely contagious and if we stop vaccinating prematurely one infectious individual could cause rapid spread amongst a vulnerable non-immune community. By maintaining a regular vaccination programme we ensure “herd” immunity and protect our communities against an epidemic.”
“Collective action is needed to ensure that every person is protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.”
How safe are vaccines?
According to Maimin, vaccines available today are highly reliable and are well tolerated, with very few exhibiting mild side effects such as pain at the injection site, an itchy rash or mild fever.
“Vaccines are continuously undergoing improvements to ensure their safety and effectiveness.”
Do combination vaccines work?
“In addition to protecting children against numerous diseases, one of the biggest advantages of combination vaccines is that the child needs to have fewer injections, and combining vaccines in one injection does not affect the effectiveness or safety of the individual vaccines,” says Maimin.
Community pharmacy clinics provide immunisations
“Many independent community pharmacies across South Africa offer a clinic service where people can go to get their children immunized,” explains Maimin. Pharmacy clinics offer a safe, convenient, accessible and affordable way to keep up to date on immunizations. They utilise the services of competent professionals, such as nursing sisters or pharmacists trained in immunisation techniques, to provide vaccinations.”
Maimin advises that the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) aims to prevent millions of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases by 2020 through universal access to immunization. “Despite improvements in individual countries and a strong global rate of new vaccine introduction, all of the GVAP targets for disease elimination—including measles, rubella, and maternal and neonatal tetanus—are behind schedule. Therefore in order for everyone, everywhere to survive and thrive, everyone must work together to ensure they, and their loved ones, are protected through immunisation.”
The ICPA advises that there are other vaccines for children available which are not currently provided by the State via the Extended Programme of Immunisation – these include:
- Influenza (flu) vaccine
- Chickenpox (Varicella) vaccine
- Hepatitis A vaccine
- Measles, Mumps & Rubella vaccine
- Meningococcal vaccine
The ICPA recommends speaking to your doctor or pharmacist about whether or not you need to consider any of the additional vaccines for your child.