Everything you need to know about vaccinations
Posted on 24 April 2019
Regular vaccinations play a crucial role in keeping your child infection-free. Dr Evan Shoul, an Infectious Disease specialist at Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre Mediclinic, explains further.
In the past, diseases such as smallpox and polio often led to death or paralysis – especially in children. Thankfully, the development of vaccines has eradicated smallpox, and other infections such as measles have nearly been eliminated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), immunisation currently saves an estimated three million lives a year worldwide.
How vaccines work
Vaccines contain either the whole causative organism (either killed or weakened so that it cannot cause disease), or non-infectious parts of the organism, that stimulate your child’s immune system in the same way as natural infections. ‘Vaccines prepare the body to fight disease. Many vaccines only need a single shot, but not all of them,’ Dr Shoul explains.
‘Booster shots help prevent the return or contraction of certain diseases and are given when immunity wears off or when the first dose does not provide sufficient immunity,’ Dr Shoul says. For example, the vaccine the DTaP vaccine, that protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough), is given to babies, with booster shots at six years and another at 11 or 12 years of age.
Studies have also shown that two doses of the MMR vaccine (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) offer more protection than one.
South Africa offers an extensive baby immunisation programme, available for free at state clinics. However, parents also have the option to choose the private schedule, either in its entirety or to supplement the government programme. Children are vaccinated at birth, 6 weeks, 14 weeks, 9 months, 18 months, 6 years and 12 years old. Children can be vaccinated against polio, measles and tuberculosis. It is never too late to vaccinate your child. Consult your health practitioner who will advise you on the appropriate schedule for catch-up vaccines.
For the full vaccination schedule click here.
A word on flu
Doctors recommend that the elderly are vaccinated against flu every year. ‘This is because the flu viruses causing disease may be different from season to season and immunity also wears off over time,’ says Dr Shoul. ‘Previously, the flu vaccine offered protection against three strains. A new vaccination was produced to offer protection against an additional flu strain,’ says Dr Shoul. ‘This latest four- strain vaccination is not yet available in South Africa but the annual seasonal three-strain vaccine is available and remains highly recommended,’ he adds.
Did you know?
* Smallpox was the first infectious disease to be globally eradicated through immunisation in 1979.
* Measles is a highly contagious disease and can lead to blindness, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or death. Globally, measles deaths have decreased by 84% from an estimated 550 000 deaths in 2000 to 89 780 in 2016.