How delaying vaccination can endanger your child's health and put others at risk

How delaying vaccination can endanger your child's health and put others at risk

Refusing or delaying vaccines can leave children susceptible to preventable infections and also make their communities more vulnerable to outbreaks of these diseases, experts warn.

Baby getting a first vaccination injection
Baby getting a first injection / iStock

As the world works to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, healthcare capacities are stretched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in some cases, vaccination services may have been disrupted.

The coronavirus outbreak serves as a valuable reminder of the important role vaccinations play in protection from infectious diseases. During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents should be made aware that it is vital that routine vaccinations of their children are maintained. Vaccine-preventable diseases are severe and can be life-threatening. Vulnerable children who have missed vaccinations during the restrictions of lockdown should be prioritised.

“One can only imagine the devastation of an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease (VPD) such as whooping cough or polio superimposed on a pandemic where healthcare resources and facilities are already under strain due to COVID-19,” says Dr Nasiha Soofie, Country Medical Head for the Vaccines Unit and Exports Market at Sanofi Pasteur.

Preventing life-threatening disease through vaccination

Vaccinations protect children and adults from serious but preventable diseases. Decisions to delay or not to give a child their vaccinations can result in outbreaks of diseases such as measles, polio, hepatitis, and more. As the response to COVID-19 continues, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that, in order to minimise other infectious disease outbreaks and loss of life, urgent catch-up vaccinations should be allowed in places where services have been disrupted. The prevailing recommendation is that parents and caregivers should continue to vaccinate their children in line with national policies.

No child should be denied vaccination without serious thought as to the consequences, both for the child and the community. Vaccination is a right for all South Africans, regardless of age or economic status.

National statistics

Despite profound improvements in the South African vaccination programme over the years, vaccination coverage for preventable diseases remains sub-optimal at 74.8%. Vaccine-preventable diseases still kill more than half a million children under five years of age in Africa every year.

In practice, it means children are missing out on life-saving vaccinations and families still have loved ones that suffer an illness, disability, and even death from diseases that we have the knowledge and the tools to prevent.

Diseases such as diphtheria, measles, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, tetanus, and tuberculosis (TB) can be prevented.

Parents and caregivers need to understand the importance of vaccination and the role they play in the vaccination of their children.

No child, regardless of where they live or their economic status, should be left vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.

Current advice: During April 2020, the World Health Organisation issued a warning that shutting down vaccination services during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in increased numbers of susceptible individuals and raise the likelihood of outbreak-prone vaccine-preventable diseases.

The true value of vaccines

Vaccination is a simple and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases before they come into contact with them.

Although some diseases may have become uncommon, the viruses or bacteria that cause them continue to circulate in some or all parts of the world. This has never been more relevant than now, with COVID-19 illustrating just how easily infectious diseases cross borders and infect.

These diseases are preventable!

Globally, the vaccination motto is to leave no-one behind. “A world where everyone, everywhere, at every age, fully benefits from vaccines for good health and well-being,” says the World Health Organisation.

Don’t let your child suffer the consequences of a preventable disease. Contact your local clinic or ask your doctor for advice.

Vaccination is an investment in tomorrow’s society

Vaccine-preventable diseases are often disabling, impair child growth and development, and prevent children from achieving their full potential.

A child who is not vaccinated is very likely to get measles, whooping cough, and many other diseases. Children who survive these diseases are weakened and may not grow to their potential. They may even be permanently disabled. By choosing not to vaccinate your child, their physical and cognitive development is at risk.

Vaccination programmes that prevent infectious diseases in childhood allow children to participate fully in their education, preparing them to become healthy adults. Healthy children tend to achieve more educationally and have better cognitive function.

Community health: Why prevention is better than cure

The burden of ill health and impaired development in children can have a knock-on effect in the community. Childhood diseases, such as mumps and chickenpox, can lead to serious complications in adulthood.

Childhood vaccination therefore is not only necessary to protect our young children but also can provide protection to adults and the elderly (including pregnant women and unborn babies) through prevention of transmission from the younger individuals.

By ensuring your child is vaccinated, you will contribute to your community’s universal health.

Do not delay vaccines

There is no benefit to delaying vaccinations.

Parents who refuse or delay vaccines not only leave their children susceptible to preventable infections, but also make their communities vulnerable to outbreaks of these diseases.

The World Health Organisation lists “Vaccine hesitancy” – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines – as one of the top 10 global health threats.

Measles, for example, has seen a 30% increase in cases globally. Some countries that were close to eliminating this disease have seen a resurgence, with vaccine hesitancy listed as one of the causes.

On-time vaccination throughout childhood is essential because it helps provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.

Vaccines are tested to ensure that they are well tolerated and effective for children to receive at the recommended ages.

By choosing not to vaccinate your child, their physical and cognitive development could be at risk. Vaccination programmes that prevent infectious diseases in childhood allow children to participate fully in their education, preparing them to become healthy adults. Healthy children tend to achieve better educationally and to have better cognitive function.

READ: World leaders demand free coronavirus vaccine for all

Questions and Answers

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines stimulate the body’s own immune system to protect the person against infection or disease. Vaccines are proven in controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and saves lives.

Are vaccines safe?

Vaccines are manufactured according to strict safety guidelines that meet world standards of quality, tolerability, and efficacy. Vaccines have robust development programmes prior to be available for general use in the public, and thereafter are subject to strict surveillance and batch testing. As with all medicines, side effects may occur, however the benefits of having the vaccine far outweigh the risks.

Who should be vaccinated?

All people need to be aware of their right to vaccination and their responsibility to protect the health of others.

People at all ages can be vaccinated, with a focus on newborns, during the 2nd year of life and adolescence, as well as pregnant women, health workers, and the elderly. If a person has missed a vaccination, ‘catch-up’ vaccinations can be administered.

The aim of vaccination is to ensure that entire communities are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases over their life-course.

Why should I vaccinate against mild diseases like chickenpox?

Mild diseases such as varicella (chickenpox) may not be life threatening for a child, but it can have serious consequences in unvaccinated newborn babies or the elderly.

Importantly, by getting your child vaccinated, you are protecting your child as well as others in your community from getting chickenpox.

Article source: Mantis Communications

Image source iStock/@Rawpixel

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