World Immunization Week 2017 – local pharmacy clinics offer immunisations

The last week of April is World Immunization Week (24 – 30 April) which aims to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. Immunization saves millions of lives and is recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that routine immunization is a fundamental starting point in primary health care —it offers every child the chance at a healthy life from the start. Immunization is also a fundamental strategy in achieving other health priorities, from controlling viral hepatitis, to curbing antimicrobial resistance, to providing a platform for adolescent health and improving antenatal and newborn care.

The WHO has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the fact that vaccines do work (#vaccineswork) and the critical importance of full immunization throughout life. In support of this initiative the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA), a body which represents over 1000 independent community pharmacies in South Africa, is urging all South African parents to ensure that their children’s immunisations are up to date.

Pharmacy Clinics Provide Immunisations

“Nearly every independent community pharmacy in South Africa offers a clinic service where people can go to get their children immunized,” explains Jackie Maimin, acting CEO of ICPA. “It offers a safe, convenient, accessible and affordable way to keep up to date on immunizations. Pharmacy clinics utilise the services of competent professionals, such as nursing sisters or pharmacists trained in immunisation techniques, to provide vaccinations.”

The ICPA provides some basic information on vaccines:

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines contain either:

  • Non-infectious fragments of bacteria and viruses
  • Whole live bacteria or viruses that have been weakened so that they cannot cause disease
  • A toxin that is produced by the bacteria but has been altered to be harmless (called a toxoid).

When they are introduced into the body (usually by injection) they stimulate the body’s immune system to fight against that disease, without the person actually getting the illness. Once the immune system has been activated by the vaccine it recognises any future invasion by that particular virus or bacteria and is able to mount a rapid and effective immune response before the infectious agent can establish itself within the body and cause disease.

Why must we vaccinate against rare diseases that have been almost eradicated?

Diseases such as diphtheria and polio are rarely encountered today largely because of widespread vaccination programmes. It is essential however to continue to vaccinate until a particular disease is essentially eradicated before we cease vaccinating. These diseases are extremely contagious and if we stop vaccinating prematurely one infectious individual could cause rapid spread amongst a vulnerable non-immune community. By maintaining a regular vaccination programme we ensure “herd” immunity and protect our communities against an epidemic.

How safe are vaccines?

Vaccines available today are highly reliable and most people tolerate them well, with very few exhibiting mild side effects such as pain at the injection site, an itchyrash or mild fever.  Vaccines are continuously undergoing improvements to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

Do combination vaccines work?

In addition to protecting children against numerous diseases, one of the biggest advantages of combination vaccines is that the child needs to have fewer injections, and combining vaccines in one injection does not affect the effectiveness or safety of the individual vaccines.

The ICPA advise that there are other vaccines for children available which are notcurrently provided by the State via the EPI Vaccination Schedule – these include:

  1. Influenza (flu) vaccine – the seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. This protects against three dangerous strains of influenza prevalent in any particular year. It is highly recommended that all children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years are vaccinated each year to protect them against these virulent forms of flu. The flu vaccine is also particularly important for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those on chronic medication, asthma sufferers, diabetics and HIV positive people.
  1. Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine – this protects against both chickenpox and later shingles. Children should get 2 doses of chickenpox vaccine starting at one year of age. Adults may be vaccinated at any time if they didn’t get 2 doses of the vaccine or chickenpox disease when they were younger.
  2. Hepatitis A Vaccine – indicated for active immunisation against infection caused by hepatitis A virus in children aged from 12 months to 15 years inclusive. Two doses of hepatitis A vaccine are recommended for all children beginning at age 12 months. The two doses should be separated by 6 months. Older children and adults can receive the vaccine if they are at risk for contracting the disease and were not vaccinated as a child. Transmission of the hepatitis A virus usually occurs through the consumption of contaminated water or food.
  3. Measles, Mumps & Rubella (MMR) Vaccine – children should receive 2 doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose should be given at 12–15 months, and the second dose at 4–6 years. This vaccine prevents mumps and rubella in addition to measles. Mumps is highly contagious and can lead to deafness, brain or spinal cord infection, and painful swelling of the testicles. Mumps in adult men can cause a drop in sperm count so may affect fertility. Rubella or German measles is a highly contagious but generally mild disease but can cause miscarriage or serious birth defects if a pregnant woman gets infected.
  4. Meningococcal Vaccine – helps prevent meningococcal meningitis a serious condition which can lead to permanent and disabling medical problems and can be fatal. Meningococcal disease is more likely to occur in babies younger than 1 year, in young people ages 16 to 23 years, in anyone with a weak immune system, and in anyone exposed to an outbreak of the disease. It is also a vaccine that is recommended for travel to certain countries where meningococcal disease is prevalent.

The ICPA concludes by saying that you should speak to your doctor or pharmacist about whether or not you should consider any of these additional vaccines for your child.

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