September is Pharmacy Month and this year The Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) is reminding South Africans about the importance of vaccines. Vaccinations prevent the spread of infectious and potentially deadly diseases – not just for infants, but throughout your life.
Vaccines for babies and small children
The development of vaccines has helped fight numerous deadly diseases such as whooping cough, measles, polio, tetanus, yellow fever, typhus, and hepatitis B, among others. “By 1980, smallpox was declared extinct due to a 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.
Other vaccines for children which are not currently provided by the State via the EPI Vaccination Schedule include:
- Influenza (flu)
- Chickenpox (Varicella)
- Hepatitis A
- Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR)
Immunisations recommended post childhood
Vaccines are often thought of as something received in childhood, but people of all ages need to be aware of the benefits of immunisation. By getting vaccinated, you can help protect friends, family members and the greater population at the same time – something referred to as “herd immunity”.
Adolescents and adults can benefit greatly from both booster vaccines that enhance the effect of immunisations 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.
Vaccinations recommended for adolescents and adults:
- “The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is generally recommended for females between the ages of 11 to 27 years. 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.
- You should receive a booster acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap) vaccine every 10 years to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Booster vaccines are especially important for pregnant women, or people who spend time with infants, young children, or people with weakened immune systems.”
- Adolescents and adults who are at risk of contracting 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 that results in severe and often debilitating neuropathic pain in the area of their shingles rash – even after the rash has healed.”
- Adults over the age of 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 getting the Pneumonia vaccination.
Vaccines recommended before falling pregnant
The ICPA cautions that before becoming pregnant, you should be up to date on routine adult vaccines that will help protect you and your baby. Before your pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider 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 an increased risk of becoming infected during delivery.
Vaccines for pregnant women
Women should always try and get their immunisation schedule up-to-date before falling pregnant, but that is not always possible.
The ICPA advises that the following two vaccines may be administered during pregnancy if indicated:
- During pregnancy you should consider getting 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 hospitalisation 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 can also get the tetanus, diphtheria, and 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 newborn from whooping cough (pertussis) until they are old enough to get vaccinated themselves. Whooping cough can be life-threatening for young babies.If you did not receive the Tdap vaccine during pregnancy, get vaccinated right after delivery. Family and others who spend time with the baby should also receive the whooping cough vaccine.
Vaccines recommended for everyone
- Seasonal immunisations: An annual flu vaccine is recommended for individuals over six 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 immunisations: 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.