Many parents choose to have their children vaccinated according to the recommended schedule, but there are others with doubts who may have questions about vaccines. Health practitioners answer all your burning questions.
According to Sister Petronella Peters, who is the primary healthcare manager for the Knysna and Bitou sub-districts in the Western Cape, life-saving vaccines in Mzansi include child immunisations, the HPV vaccine, flu vaccines, Covid-19 vaccines and Covid-19 booster doses.
“These vaccinations against deadly diseases are available for free at all our clinics and during school outreaches,” says Peters.
“We are fortunate today that we have a number of vaccinations available that can save your life and that of your loved ones, from babies to the elderly.”
From 24 – 30 April it is World Immunisation Week. It puts a spotlight on vaccines which are the most powerful tools we have in our health arsenal for preventable disease.
This year’s theme is “Long Life for All: In pursuit of a long life well lived” and highlights the importance of immunisation in saving lives.
Why you should prioritise immunisation
A healthcare worker will keep track of your family’s vaccinations, health and developmental milestones. “When moms bring their babies for immunisations, they are giving them the best start to be a healthy growing child,” says Sister Linda Marais of Zolani Clinic in the Langeberg.
Mother-of-two Shanaaz Prins can attest to this. “I adore my daughters and want only the best for them, that is why I ensure their vaccinations are up to date,” she says.
Do not delay your child’s vaccinations, because this can affect their health, cautions Paarl Hospital paediatrician Dr Jaco Murray.
Meanwhile director of child health Sonia Botha adds that caregivers express hesitancy to visit health facilities and face the possibility of being exposed to communicable diseases.
“Some of the additional measures to make vaccination more accessible are appointment systems in place to decrease waiting times, and more than 200 contracts with public-private-partners who provide vaccines on an appointment system, after hours and on weekends at a minimal consultation fee,” says Botha.
Vaccinations prevents life-threatening vaccine-preventable diseases, emphasises Western Cape minister of health Dr Nomafrench Mbombo.
Mbombo says vaccinating your child according to the recommended schedule starting from birth, can protect children and the community from vaccine-preventable illness.
These vaccinations are important:
The HPV vaccination for girls in grade 5 who are older than nine years in public and special schools, is crucial in limiting their risk of getting cervical cancer later in life, says Sister Beatrice Groenewald, the clinical programme coordinator (Child Health, EPI & CDC) in the Overberg district.
“We want your daughters to have a reduced risk of developing cervical cancer when they are adults.”
In South Africa, flu kills around 10 000 people each year and causes severe illness like pneumonia and many more cases of milder illness. These can be prevented with the flu vaccine, explains public health specialist Dr David Pienaar.
“Flu has not disappeared because of Covid-19 and still pose a risk to especially to immune-compromised people and those with chronic conditions who are at high risk for severe illness. We are worried about a tough flu season this winter. Therefore it is crucial that you get your flu vaccine as soon as possible to ensure you are protected.”
We are expecting the fifth wave in late April or early May, says Pienaar. “We don’t know how severe this wave will be, but we know that the coronavirus mutates rapidly and that the only way to protect yourself and your loved ones against possible severe illness, hospitalisation and death, is to get vaccinated against Covid-19.”
Pienaar also warns about the possibility of long Covid and that many people who experienced mild infections can suffer from fatigue, coughing, and other symptoms for many weeks or months, impacting their quality of life.
He urges residents to make sure they boost their immunity against Covid-19 by getting their booster doses.
“The benefit of a Covid-19 booster should be self-evident. The disease has not gone away and we remain concerned that we might be facing a fifth wave, and worryingly, new unknown variants,” says Pienaar.
Both Covid-19 primary doses and booster doses are especially important for immunocompromised persons, adds Sister Norma Boer from DP Marais Hospital. “A Covid-19 booster shot is an additional dose of a vaccine given after the protection provided by the original shot, that has decreased over time. The booster helps people maintain strong protection from severe Covid-19 disease, which we have seen and experienced in the past.”