Immunity and your child

Posted on 3 February 2020

Prevention is always better than cure. Vaccines are the best protection you can offer your child against infectious diseases.

As Dr Jannie van der Vyver, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Midstream explains, immunisation helps to strengthen your child’s immune system to fight diseases like polio, measles, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tuberculosis (TB) and meningitis. The state immunisation programme in South Africa is the most comprehensive one in developing countries. It is free –  and allows for all children to have the benefit of protection from many life-threatening infections. There are a number of additional vaccines or combinations available in the private sector.  ‘As a parent, you can choose the private schedule in its entirety ­– or choose to supplement the government one,’ says Dr van der Vyver.

The process of vaccination involves giving your child small, harmless amounts of an infectious agent (for example a virus) in order for their immune system to prepare itself for the next time it meets the same infectious agent.

A vaccine may be any one of the following:


  • A live, but specially weakened, organism such as oral polio vaccine
  • A dead organism such as intramuscular polio vaccine.
  • Part of an organism such as hepatitis B vaccine (surface antigen).
  • Part of an organism to which a further substance is added, such as the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.
  • An inactivated toxic substance produced by an organism, such as the diphtheria and pertussis vaccines.


Private practice immunisation schedule +

AgeVaccineAlso known asProtects against
BirthOPV (0)Oral polio vaccinePolio
BirthBCGBacillus Calmette GuerinTuberculosis
6 weeksOPV (1)Oral polio vaccinePolio
6 weeksRV (1)Rotavirus vaccineRotavirus
6 weeksPCV (1)Pneumococcal conjugate vaccinePneumococcal diseases
6 weeksDTaP-IPV-Hib-HBV (1)Pentavalent VaccineDiphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, haemophilus influenzae type B
10 weeksRV (2)Rotavirus vaccineRotavirus
10 weeksPCV (2)Pneumococcal conjugate vaccinePneumococcal diseases
10 weeksDTaP-IPV-Hib-HBV (2)Pentavalent VaccineDiphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, haemophilus influenzae type B
14 weeksRV (3)Rotavirus vaccineRotavirus
14 weeksPCV (3)Pneumococcal conjugate vaccinePneumococcal diseases
14 weeksDTaP-IPV-Hib-HBV (3)Pentavalent VaccineDiphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, haemophilus influenzae type B
6 monthsTIVInfluenza vaccineInfluenza
6 monthsMMR (1)Measles VaccineMeasles or Measles, mumps, rubella (German measles)
9 monthsMCV4 (1)Meningococcal conjugate vaccine Meningococcal diseases
9 monthsPCV (4)Pneumococcal conjugate vaccineBacterial pneumococcal diseases
12 monthsMMR (2)Measles, Mumps, and Rubella VaccineMeasles, mumps, rubella (German measles)
12 monthsMMRVChickenpox VaccineChicken pox
12 monthsHAV (1)Hepatitis A vaccineHepatitis A
12 monthsMCV4 (2)Meningococcal conjugate vaccine Meningococcal diseases
18 months DTaP-IPV-Hib-HBV (4)Pentavalent VaccineDiphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, haemophilus influenzae type B
18 monthsHAV (2)Hepatitis A vaccineHepatitis A
5-6 yearsDTaP-IPVDiphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (Acellular, Component) And Poliomyelitis (Inactivated) VaccineDiphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, haemophilus influenzae type B
5-6 yearsMMRMeasles, Mumps, and Rubella VaccineMeasles, mumps, rubella (German measles)
5-6 yearsMMRVChickenpox VaccineChicken pox
9 years +HPV 1 (girls and boys)Human Papillomavirus Bivalent VaccineHuman papilloma virus
12 yearsTdaP-IPVAdacel Quadra/Boostrix TetraDiphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis (whooping cough), inactivated polio vaccine



Ideally, children should have all their vaccinations on time, according to the recommended schedule, but unfortunately many children either miss a couple of doses or do not get any for a number of reasons. When the opportunity arises, the schedule should be completed. “Each situation involving a catch-up is unique and needs to be evaluated on an individual basis,” says Dr van der Vyver. “Decisions need to be made on how best to protect the child with what is available.”


To vaccinate or not? Six common myths busted! +


  1. Children with an egg allergy should not have a measles vaccine Data suggests that anaphylactic reactions to measles- and mumps-containing vaccines are not associated with hypersensitivity to egg antigens but rather to other components of the vaccines (such as gelatin. Children with egg allergies should be fully vaccinated including with measle vaccine). Children with egg allergies should be vaccinated with a measles-containing vaccine. A contra-indication to the vaccine is an anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine.
  2. The combination MMR vaccine causes autism This myth is based on a study on 12 children, which was found to be seriously flawed and several very large independent studies on collectively millions of children have subsequently found no association between MMR and autism.
  3. Thiomersal in the vaccines, specifically the MMR vaccine, causes autism Live vaccines, of which MMR is one, do not contain preservatives as this would inactivate the vaccine. Thiomersal is a mercury-based preservative that is found in very few vaccines today. There is no evidence to support any link between thiomersal and autism.
  4. If your child is on an antibiotic, you must not administer a vaccine Antibiotics would only interfere with a live bacterial vaccine (and the only one in South Africa is BCG), as antibiotics have no effect on viruses or on killed, inactivated vaccines. However, if your child is acutely ill, it is preferable to defer vaccination.
  5. Giving too many vaccines at one time will overload the system Scientific evidence shows that giving several vaccines at the same time has no adverse effect on your child’s immune system. Children are exposed to several hundred foreign substances that trigger an immune response every day. The simple act of eating food introduces new antigens into the body, and numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose. Your child is exposed to far more antigens from a common cold or sore throat than they are from vaccines.
  6. True immunity can only be obtained through natural immunity. Vaccines suppress the immune system. A vaccine contains either the whole causative organism (either killed or weakened so that it can’t cause disease), or non-infectious parts of the organism, and thus interacts with the immune system to produce an immune response similar to that produced by the natural inf Immunoglobulins on the other hand, do not stimulate the immune system and provide passive immunity which is only temporary.

Why timing of vaccinations is crucial

If an immunisation is given too early, your baby may not develop the expected resistance to the illness because his immune system is still too immature to respond fully.

If an immunisation is given too late your baby may develop that illness before receiving the vaccination.

If immunisations are given too soon after the previous immunisation (for example, if DPaT immunisations are given a week apart), your baby may not develop the expected resistance to the illness.


* SOURCE: Amayeza Info Services’ Vaccine Helpline. For more information call 0860 160 160


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.