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Your choice not to vaccinate puts others at risk – WHO

Experts caution against stagnation of immunization coverage in Africa/WHO

NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 9 – Vaccine hesitancy or the anti-vaccination campaign has been identified as one of the top ten threats to global health. It contradicts the overwhelming scientific consensus on the effectiveness of vaccines.

Immunization is an artificial way of creating resistance to infection and protect an individual against the effects of a toxin. Dr. Phoebe Juma of Nairobi Hospital says vaccine administration mimics a natural infection. The vaccines stimulate the immune system to develop antibodies or white cells that can fight against infection.

“Your immune system has a memory meaning that the next time you are exposed to the infection the response against it will be quick. Together with sanitization immunization is one of the most effective ways of preventing infection,” explained Dr Juma. Vaccine hesitancy has its root in medical, ethical and legal issues says Dr. Juma. “Some reasons for declining vaccination are valid. For example, the fear of side effects, adverse reactions or toxic effects of preservatives contained in some vaccines.”

It is for these reasons that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has prioritized safety and quality of vaccines. It provides advice to procurement agencies and countries. Manufacturers are also subjected to a thorough review of efficacy, immunogenicity and safety of their products

Other reasons for vaccine hesitancy are grounded in misconceptions. To some the fact that some vaccines e.g. childhood vaccines are mandatory is an infringement of civil liberties. Fears that the MMR (measles mumps and rubella) vaccine caused autism have been extensively investigated and found to be false.

Dr Juma: “It was also believed that the HPV vaccine would encourage promiscuity among young girls. People also decline vaccines on philosophical or religious grounds for example they don’t believe in the germ theory or believe they believe that illness is a punishment on that individual sent by God or that vaccines are too many and may exhaust the child’s immunity.”

Regardless of the reason for vaccine refusal, it has led to disease outbreaks and an increased number of deaths due to vaccine preventable illnesses in the unvaccinated persons. For example, in northern Nigeria it is a widely held belief that vaccination is a strategy by the West to reduce the population of Africans.

This has led to a decline in the uptake of the oral polio vaccine with a corresponding a rise in the number of polio cases seen. As a result, Nigeria has become an exporter of polio to the neighbouring countries. Such examples are many in literature. The importance of vaccination lies in promotion of health by preventing sickness/ illness.

Vaccination doesn’t just protect one individual but by preventing spread of disease can protect entire communities a phenomenon referred to as herd immunity. Herd immunity is especially important for children who are too young to receive vaccines e.g. neonates. By protecting against infections like human papilloma virus certain vaccines also protect against cancer associated with that infection that is cervical cancer.

Vaccines have a rapid impact and save lives and costs with regards to healthcare. For these reasons’ economists have ranked vaccination fourth among the top 30 most cost-effective ways of advancing global welfare. Immunization protects against many childhood illnesses including whooping cough, measles, German measles, meningococcus, pneumococcus, chicken pox, tetanus, mumps, rubella, DPT, rotavirus, hepatitis.

Dr Juma explained that the paediatric schedule varies by country or geographic region and for Kenya is provided by the Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunization. The schedule is usually indicated on the child’s clinic card. A healthcare provider can advise if further vaccines are indicated which are not on the schedule for example during outbreaks of cholera or typhoid.

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“Adults require vaccines too,” she added. The vaccines you need are determined by several factors including your age, lifestyle including travel to distant countries, existing health conditions, occupation and the vaccines your received early in life. The recommended vaccines for adults include the seasonal influenza vaccine which is given annually, pertussis vaccine for all women with each pregnancy and those who were never vaccinated, tetanus and acellular pertussis every 10years, shingles or chicken pox vaccine in those over 50 years, pneumococcal vaccine in those over 65 years old.

Other vaccines you may need include Human papilloma virus vaccine, meningococcal vaccine, hepatitis A vaccine, hepatitis B vaccine, and MMR, typhoid vaccine and cholera vaccine. Travellers may also require yellow fever vaccine.


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