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Experts warn that continued disruptions to child immunisation in SA poses serious health implications

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Published Apr 30, 2022

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Johannesburg - Continued disruptions to the child immunisation programme in South Africa poses serious health implications to the country and region.

Not vaccinating children could lead to an increase in infections such as measles, which could lead to expansive outbreaks in the coming years and would negatively impact South Africa’s child mortality rate given that measles and other preventable infections have serious complications, including death.

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This is the warning from some of the country’s top doctors during World Immunization Week, which aims to highlight the collective action needed to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.

Pharma giant Pfizer South Africa hosted a media round-table to address the dropping rates of routine vaccination amid the pandemic, emphasising the importance of immunisation to avoid vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, rotavirus disease, diarrhoea, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, meningitis and pneumonia, as well as the re-emergence of smallpox and polio, among others in the country.

In South Africa, national immunisation coverage rates dropped by 21% between April 2019 and April 2020 against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, potentially increasing the risk of the resurgence of diseases that have been under control for a long time.

Attended by local experts, the event shed light on the benefits vaccines can provide to people at all ages and stages of life, including routine vaccinations in childhood and vaccines to protect teenagers, adults and older people from severe diseases and infections. The company announced that it would continue to play a leading role in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases in line with its commitment to address critical public health challenges.

Well-known TV doctor Victor Ramathesele said scientific data has repeatedly shown that vaccines are safe and considered one of the most significant public health advancements of all time.

“Their widespread use has led to the control, near elimination or elimination of many infectious diseases that were once pervasive and often deadly.”

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Dr Bha Ndungane-Tlakula, medical director at Pfizer South Africa, said the company’s focus remains on innovating and improving vaccine technologies and delivery systems to prevent increasing infectious diseases, and potentially cure non-communicable ones like cancer.

“We are also committed to raising awareness about the importance of vaccination, especially in light of the country's decreasing rates of routine vaccination. Today, more than at any time in history, people of all ages benefit from safe and effective vaccines. The advantages of immunisation are so strongly embedded in our lives that many don’t worry about catching smallpox or fear paralysis caused by polio,” he said.

The doctors warned that South Africans must not let their guard down and must keep getting vaccinated to maintain the protection that vaccines offer all of us. If a child or adult has missed one or more doses of important vaccinations, a doctor or local health clinic can help get them back on track. The discussion re-prioritised childhood and adult immunisations as the best way to prevent the potential resurgence of a panoply of vaccine-preventable diseases.

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The World Health Organization under its slogan for the week #LongLifeforAll said a long life for all is not a promise but an ambition.

“Because everyone deserves a chance at a fulfilling life.​ One where we're free to pursue happiness. ​And look back without wondering ‘What if’?,” the WHO said on its website. The organisation stressed that vaccines have been indiscriminately saving lives since 1796. The first smallpox immunisation was a fight-back against disease.

“For the first time, it gave everyone a chance. And hundreds of vaccines later,​ across two and a quarter centuries, billions of people have lived longer lives.​ Grown up to become firefighters, doctors, musicians, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters.​ Vaccines might not get credit for that first kiss, that winning goal, that special day, that final hug, but their worth isn't just measured in doses given, it’s in minutes given back and lives prolonged,” the WHO said.

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In South Africa, 34.7 million doses have been administered in the fight against Covid-19. Since some vaccines require more than one dose, the number of fully vaccinated people is often lower. The latest stats show that 18.3 million people have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, which translates into 30.8% of the population.

The Saturday Star

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