According to a South African Demographic Health Survey released by Statistics SA in 2016, only about 53% of South African children between 12 and 23 months have received all their appropriate vaccinations. By Kim Bell
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) issued a health alert late January following a measles outbreak in the Western Cape and Gauteng areas. Measles can cause major health complications, or even death, but is largely prevented through vaccination. It has now made a comeback, not necessarily through a lack of infrastructure or means, but rather because globally, parents are choosing not to vaccinate.
Reason 1: Vaccines do more harm than good.
Parents are concerned about the risks and adverse reactions linked to vaccinations – however, severe allergic reactions are rarer and less dangerous than the conditions the vaccinations are protecting. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the risk of a severe allergic reaction is one in a million doses.
Reason 2: Vaccines can cause autism
Annemarie Blackmore, Pharma Dynamics’ Antimicrobials Category Manager explains that this outcry was triggered by news reports of a now retracted British study that linked autism to the childhood vaccine for Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR). “The study has since been proven fraudulent by an investigation published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), but the damaging effects remain and, as a result, many parents are in two minds about whether to vaccinate their children.
Reason 3: The vaccines overwhelm my baby’s immune system
According to the Institute for Vaccine Safety, when we were children we were vaccinated against eight diseases – however, a two-year-old today who is fully vaccinated, is protected against 14 diseases. The good news is that the total antigens (that is the viral or bacterial components of the vaccine that helps the immune system to build up antibodies) in today’s vaccines are much fewer than previous, and help build up and protect your child’s immune system, rather than the other way around.
Reason 4: Can’t I delay some vaccines, or only get the important ones?
The CDC explains that there is no factual proof that spacing out vaccines is any safer. However, the CDC, Unicef and World Health Organizations infectious disease experts have devised a global recommended vaccine schedule that has been created to provide the greatest protection both for the individual child, and through herd immunity.
Reason 5: I am not sure how many vaccinations my child should have
The biggest issue here is communication. There is no electronic record of vaccinations your child has, simply a record on the clinic card. Currently, if you go to the clinic to get a second dose, for example 14 weeks, it is assumed that your child has already received the first dose. This can give a false sense of security and protection.
Reason 6: It’s a money-making racket from the pharmaceutical companies.
The government’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) allows for all children to be vaccinated free of charge against 10 diseases: polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), haemophilus influenzae type B related meningitis and pneumonia, hepatitis B, rotavirus infection, pneumococcal infection and measles. The HPV vaccine (against the human papillomavirus) has now been added to the schedule for nine- to 10-year-old girls. However, in the private sector (and at an additional cost), you can choose to vaccinate against chicken pox, hepatitis A and measles, mumps and rubella.
Reason 7: They don’t work
Vaccines are believed to play a critical role in helping to curb anti-microbial resistance (AMR), at least until new antibiotics are brought to the market – which, experts say, is still a long way off. Annemarie explains that antibiotic resistance is when an antibiotic has lost its ability to effectively control or kill bacterial growth and is caused by the unnecessary and incorrect use of antibiotics. Vaccines, she adds, have the potential to decrease disease, which in turn can reduce the need for antibiotic use. “South Africa is still some way off in meeting its immunisation targets – which, given the alarming rise in superbugs in recent years, has now become a top priority.”
Reason 8: It’s a violation of my rights
Most schools will not let your child attend without a valid and up-to-date immunisation card. And for good reason. Ensuring a large group of children are vaccinated, helps protect that small percentage of children who may have compromised immune systems. If more children are vaccinated, it creates community or herd immunity, and protects more children.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday. You can learn more about Kim Bell here.