Diseases / Lifestyle / Research

Celebrate African Immunisation Week and learn about vaccines!

Today marks the first day of African Immunisation week.  A week dedicated to what can only be considered a standard procedure- vaccinating against diseases.

Vaccinations are important, it cannot be stated enough that there is no medical reason not to vaccinate your children or avoid having vaccines yourself.  As with anything, there are risks of side-effects but no, autism is not one.

Recently the USA experienced one of the most severe measles outbreaks in recent times, in the most ironic of places- Disney land. This was considered to have come about as a result of parents refusing to vaccinate their children.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines are small, less active doses of the disease they are trying to protect against. By exposing the body to the disease, they create antibodies which them make the person immune to the getting the full blown disease.

Why vaccinate yourself and your children?

Vaccines protect you from diseases! The immunity they provide makes sure your child won’t lose the ability to walk or breathe on their own or even possibly die.

It prevents between 2 and 3 million deaths every year and now protects children not only against diseases for which vaccines have been available for many years, such as diphtheria, tetanus, polio and measles, but also against diseases such as pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhoea, two of the biggest killers of children under  5.

“Vaccines protect the person and protect the community at large,” explained Dr Fiona Meihuizen, a practitioner at Gainsford and Partners practice. “The whole concept of herd community means that if amount of immunisations are at 90% then the odd ones who aren’t immunised are protected.”

This does not mean you should leave it up to others to protect your family, the occasional New Age parent’s unimmunised child may be okay, but when not vaccinating your child becomes a trend it can lead to a resurgence of diseases we could have eradicated.

Wait, then why don’t people want to vaccinate their children?

Many anti-vaxxers, as they are called, believe that vaccinating your children can make them sick or lead to other diseases- such as autism. This is entirely wrong as the paper which linked vaccines to autism was disproven, the author lost his medical licence and he currently sits in jail.

Vaccines are specifically designed to help, not hurt.  While it cannot be said that there are no incidences of irregular responses to vaccines, that is a part of medicine that will always exist.

“It’s a very emotive issue,” said Dr Meihuizen, “No one wants to do anything to cause harm to their child so they would rather not so anything, there is a fear of doing something.”

While this can be the case, parents who don’t immunise a child should be held equally accountable for the crippling polio their child is likely to get.

Young girl lies in an "iron lung," the device that helped those with polio breathe during the height of its outbreak.

Young girl lies in an “iron lung,” the device that helped those with polio breathe during the height of its outbreak.

Cool, I’ve vaccinated my child according to the government schedule- now what?

You have now taken a very logical and wonderful step towards making sure your child has a healthy life without large medical aid bills and life-threatening illnesses. However, this is not the end. While some vaccines do not need a booster it is important to be aware of which do to make sure you and your little one are continuously protected.

“We [doctors] have to take the opportunity when people come in to see us [to mention booster vaccines],” said Dr Meihuizen.

These are important vaccines that often need another boost in later life, mostly around adolescence and early 20s. Tetanus, Whooping Cough and Diphtheria are all recommended to have boosters to ensure maximum protection.

So go on, look at the schedule for vaccinating your children here, get educated on what vaccines you need and do the right thing this Immunisation Week.

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