Vaccination – the best way to fight disease

Global Vaccination Week started on 24 April and ends tomorrow. South Africans are urged to get vaccinated ahead of winter, especially after the northern hemisphere experienced one of its worst flu outbreaks this year, leaving as many as 30 people dead in the United States

Getting vaccinated against the flu virus will be even more important for South Africans this winter, as this season’s flu strains are proving to be more virulent than those of 2014.

According to the World Health Organisation, between two and three million deaths a year are prevented through immunisation.

However, the debate surrounding the safety of vaccinations has raged for many years, with sceptics questioning the long-term impact, especially on young children.

Professor Prakash Jeena, head of the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and Paediatric Pulmonology and Asthma & Allergy Department at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital in Durban, is one of the many health professionals in favour of the use of vaccinations for children and adults. He argues that this is the best way to fight the spread of infectious diseases.

“South Africa has one of the most progressive vaccination programmes on the African continent and among developing countries in the world,” says Professor Jeena.

Dr Malebo Mokotedi-Mapiloko, a family practitioner and travel-medicine physician based in Fourways, Johannesburg, says that although there are fears surrounding vaccines, there is no scientific evidence to back them up. She says concerns are mostly based on bad press.

“Vaccinating has been proven to be the best primary preventer of harmful diseases,” she says, pointing out that vaccines reduce incidents of life-­threatening diseases and the rate at which other diseases spread.

In a bid to increase child vaccinations, the Australian government recently announced that it would refuse to give child-care subsidies and family tax benefits to parents who decline to vaccinate their children.

“The choice made by families not to immunise their children is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child-care payments,” said Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

As of next year the Australian government will only permit vaccination objections based on religious or medical grounds.

Dr Marlin McKay, GP at the Goldman Medical Centre in Roodeport applauded this groundbreaking regulation, which he deems to be “justified”.

“My personal view is that there are absolutely no disadvantages that can justify not having our kids vaccinated. Refusing to vaccinate is negligent and criminal. Most negative views are based on myths and misunderstandings about vaccines and how they work,” he said.

McKay reiterated that vaccinations are safe and effective, and the best way to provide protection against infectious diseases.

The past decade has seen a rapid increase in the development of new and sophisticated vaccines specifically targeted at adults.

Professor Jeena emphasised the need for adults to get vaccinations, especially in light of a rapid increase in the development of new and sophisticated vaccines targeted at diseases such as Hepatitis B, Haemophilus Influenza Type B, influenza, pneumococcus, rotavirus and the human papilloma virus (HPV).

“Vaccination is one of the most powerful health interventions that has the ability to eradicate or eliminate diseases,” he added.

Some vaccines recommended for adults include:

  • Influenza – annually.
  • Tetanus – every 10 years.
  • Pertussis – once-off.
  • HPV (recommended from 9 – 26 years of age) – 3 doses.
  • Zoster (shingles) – after the age of 50, a booster may be required later.
  • Pneumococcal vaccine – once-off after the age of 65.
  • Rubella – once-off dose for women prior to falling pregnant if there is no evidence of immunity to Rubella.

Additional reporting by News24Wire