THERE are many diseases that affect us that can be prevented — and a simple way of doing this is through immunisation/vaccination.
This method, used in most countries, has especially been shown to be very effective with children.
In 1974, the Expanded Programme on Immunisation was launched in the wake of the successful global eradication of smallpox.
Now, on average 80 percent of children born in the world receive six standard vaccines, though in many countries the percentage is much lower than that.
Immunisation has been designated as the cornerstone in preventative medicine.
WHO and UNICEF have assisted in ensuring that funding is available for the poorest countries.
Immunisation is highly cost-effective over the long term and some developing countries are now able to manufacture certain vaccines.
The aim of immunisation is to protect those people who are at risk of getting certain diseases.
This may reduce the circulation of organisms that cause disease in the community such as the polio virus and hepatitis B and can even eventually completely get rid of the disease from the community like the way that small pox is now completely non-existent.
Immunisation works on the concept that when an infection enters the body, the body fights off the infection but at the same time also learns to recognise it, so that the next time the infection comes the body will recognise it and mount a much better battle against the infection.
A vaccine is an injection containing part of or the entire “germ” in order to teach the body to recognise it and therefore fight it off much easier the next time that it enters the body again.
Of course it feels uneasy to have infectious organisms being injected into anyone’s body, but the essence of the vaccines is that they are usually weakened (live-attenuated vaccines) and therefore not capable of causing illness or the same organism that has been killed (killed vaccine).
Sometimes only part of the organism is used (sub-unit vaccines) and the body still recognises it and will be able to mount a powerful response the next time it is faced with the germ.
The disadvantage with these types of vaccines is that the person has to receive several injections over a period as boosters, otherwise the body may not be able to learn how to fight off the infection adequately enough to protect you from the disease.
In fact, the live-attenuated viral vaccines promote a full long-lasting immune response after one injection.
The BCG vaccine given at birth as a single dose promotes immunity against tuberculosis.
Live poliomyelitis vaccine (OPV) is given by mouth and requires three doses as does the live oral typhoid vaccine.
Another important issue is that the age at immunisation is important in ensuring an adequate immune response because during pregnancy antibodies are passed from the mother to the foetus in the womb and this may disrupt the way that the vaccine works.
An example is the measles vaccine, which is recommended to be taken later (nine months) and not earlier.
There are some constraints that stop people from taking their children for their scheduled vaccinations.
This subject is difficult even to those trained on the matter and is not always clear-cut.
For example, it may be preferable to delay immunisation of a child with an illness especially those resulting in a fever but in a rural developing world situation it may be a missed opportunity.
Usually if a child is sick enough to require admission to a hospital, routine immunisation may be delayed, but this decision may be left to your doctor to make.
All immunisation should be given with informed parental consent.
Some care-givers believe that if the child is premature or has low birth weight then immunisation is not relevant, but this is incorrect.
Even breast-feeding babies also go for immunisation.
The BCG vaccine protects against tuberculosis and OPV protects against polio.
The DPT vaccine is a combination of three vaccines against three conditions — diptheria, pertusis (whooping cough) and tetanus.
The HIB vaccine protects against haemophilus influenza type b which is a bacteria that can cause chest infections, meningitis and infection of the eyes and the Hep B vaccine protects against hepatitis B virus.
The usual schedule for immunisation is:
l At birth — BCG and polio (OPV) vaccines
l Six weeks after birth — DPT and OPV
l 10 weeks after birth — DPT, HIB, Hep B and OPV
l 14 weeks after birth — DPT, HIB, Hep B and OPV
l Six months after birth — vitamin A
l Nine months — measles
l 12 months — vitamin A
It is highly recommended to follow the vaccination programme faithfully because it cannot be over-emphasised how much this can help your child. Please note that avoidance or absconding from the programme may be fatal and unfair to your baby.