The big debate surrounding vaccines is prominent in South Africa. Many parents are against vaccinating their children due to certain adverse effects that could occur as a result and the research that supports the notion that vaccinations are related to various health concerns. Vaccinations in South Africa are voluntary, unlike in some other countries. They are important and can save a life.
A vaccine is used to help the immune system recognise and fight specific germs, viruses and bacteria. The vaccine contains a small amount of the germ, assisting the body to develop a level of resistance, without contracting the virus. Let’s take a look at a few of the most important vaccines and the benefits they can provide for you and your child.
Hepatitis A is an acute inflammation of the liver, however it normally gets better on its own without treatment. It spreads from person to person and is normally contracted through faeces, food and water. The vaccine for this virus is normally only given on request by a doctor.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection that also causes inflammation of the liver and can be considered potentially life-threatening. Hepatitis B (HBV) is quite common in South Africa and research shows that 10% of the population are carriers. South Africa also has one of the highest percentages of liver cancer in the world and this can be directly related to HBV. When HBV is contracted at birth or under 5 years of age, it is most likely a persistent infection which is difficult to clear. This virus is contracted through blood, breast milk and genital secretions.
The symptoms of this virus include abdominal pain, jaundice, fever, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. This CAN be prevented through vaccination. This vaccine is given to children in 3 doses at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age. People who work in environments where they are in contact with patients and blood or bodily fluids should also be vaccinated.
Measles is one of the most infectious diseases and can lead to brain damage, brain swelling or pneumonia. Things to look for include a rash, fever or flu-like symptoms and can be spread through coughing or sneezing. Recently, there has been an outbreak of measles in Gauteng and the Western Cape, some of these cases stemming from unvaccinated children. This has called for an urgent campaign to vaccinate against this disease throughout schools in the affected areas.
The MMR Vaccine protects against measles, mumps (causes fever, fatigue and swollen glands) and rubella (also known as German measles, which causes fever and rash). It is recommended that your child receives 2 doses of this vaccine, the first around 12 to 15 months old and the second at 4 to 6 years of age.
Influenza is the cause of thousands of deaths each year in South Africa – (between 6000 and 11000 to be more accurate). A large percentage of those are elderly and HIV infected people. Flu season in South Africa occurs during winter, thus it is recommended that one gets the flu vaccine between the months of March and June before the season begins.
Influenza is a virus that spreads from one person to the next and has various symptoms which include a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, diarrhoea, vomiting, shivering and fatigue to name a few. It is caused by one of many respiratory viruses. Other viruses cause the normal common cold without the body aches and sickness caused by the flu. People with flu are usually contagious one day before symptoms appear and three to seven days after. The flu vaccine only prevents influenza. One should get the flu vaccine every year as the strain of the flu virus and the vaccine itself might change.
People who are at a higher risk of being hospitalised as a result of the flu virus should get vaccinated. This includes pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, HIV infected people, people over 65 and children between 4 months and 6 years. In addition, health care workers, anyone in close proximity with people who are at risk of severe flu and anyone who wants to prevent the virus should get the flu vaccination.
Anyone that has previously had any serious adverse effects from the flu vaccines should not get the vaccine in future again.
Please read more about these viruses and diseases so that you can understand how important it is to prevent them. Vaccination is the most effective way to combat the chances of contracting these viruses. Don’t wait – go and vaccinate. You could be saving a life – yours or that of your children.