A long life for all – vaccines save lives
Vaccines are one of the most powerful tools we have in our health arsenal for preventable disease. World Immunisation Week, which takes places from 24 to 30 April is themed: Long Life for All: In pursuit of a long life well lived and highlights the importance of immunisation in saving lives.
“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. Life-saving vaccines 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 Sr Petronella Peters, primary healthcare manager Knysna/Bitou sub-districts.
“We as the Western Cape Government Health and Wellness want to support you in making possible life-saving choices, such as getting vaccinated. I encourage all parents to remember the importance of creating a healthy future for your baby by ensuring that your baby is fully immunised. As your child grow and develop, make sure you use the opportunity for young girls to get vaccinated against HPV to reduce their risk of getting cervical cancer, and for all children of 12 years and older to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Also remember to take care of yourself and to prioritise your health by getting your COVID-19 vaccine and your booster doses. If you have a chronic condition, it is very important that you not only get your COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses, but also your flu vaccine. Make the smart decision for your family’s health, from babies to the elderly and vulnerable,” says Western Cape Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo.
“I adore my daughters and want only the best for them, that is why I ensure their vaccinations are up to date,” says mother-of-two Shanaaz Prins.
“When moms bring their babies for immunisations, they are giving them the best start to be a healthy growing child,” says Sr Linda Marais of Zolani Clinic in the Langeberg.
Vaccinations prevents life-threatening vaccine-preventable diseases. By vaccinating your child according to the recommended schedule starting from birth, you can protect your child and your community from vaccine-preventable illnesses and stop the spreading thereof. At each visit to a public health facility, your child’s weight and height will be measured and recorded. A healthcare worker will keep track of their vaccinations, health and developmental milestones. Do not delay your child’s vaccinations, because this can affect their health.
“Immunisation coverage tends to be very good in the first few months after birth, but gradually decreases as child gets older and caregivers’ forget to take children for follow-up immunisations. Reasons for missed clinic visits usually includes vaccine hesitancy, lack of information about vaccination safety, loss of Road to Health booklets and other circumstances leading to missed appointments” says Dr Jaco Murray, paediatrician at Paarl Hospital.
“Western Cape Government Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) teams were proactive in putting in place catch-up campaigns and community vaccination drives during the pandemic years,” says Deputy Director of Child Health, Sonia Botha. The Province achieved 85.2% coverage for immunisations for children under 1 year in 2019/20 and 82.9% for 2020/2021 and 83.1% in 2021/22.
“Some caregivers express hesitancy to visit health facilities and face the possibility of being exposed to communicable diseases. The Department would like to assure all health care users that measures are in place to ensure the safety of all clients entering facilities. 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,” adds Sonia Botha.
Western Cape Government Health embrace the National policy to offer child immunisation at birth, 6, 10, and 14 weeks, and at 6, 9,12 and 18 months, as well as at 6, 9 and 12 years.
The HPV vaccination for girls in grade 5 in public and special schools who are older than 9 years, is crucial in limiting their risk of getting cervical cancer later in life.
"We want your daughters to have a reduced risk of developing cervical cancer when they are adults,” says Sr Beatrice Groenewald, Clinical Programme Coordinator (Child Health, EPI & CDC) Overberg district.
In 2019, 43 9444 HPV vaccines were administered. Due to COVID-19 and its effect on schools there was a decline in 2020. Teams administered 36 049 in 2021 and for the first round in 2022 they have administered 34 780 with a second round to follow. The HPV vaccine is administered by school health teams that go to schools. No child is vaccinated against HPV without their parents’ or caregivers permission. Therefore, parents and caregivers play a vital role in supporting the HPV vaccination programme. They can do this by signing HPV vaccine consent forms and return the forms back to school.
The Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness is now offering free influenza (flu) vaccines to eligible groups ahead of the flu season, which generally occurs from June to September. You get your flu shot on the same day as their COVID-19 vaccine/booster.
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. We want to protect our most vulnerable residents and encourage people at high risk to be vaccinated against flu. High-risk groups include pregnant women (at particular risk of severe influenza pneumonia), people with HIV and other causes of immune suppression, people with chronic lung, neurological or cardiac disease, metabolic diseases such as diabetes and morbid obesity, the elderly (65 and older) and healthcare workers.
Flu vaccines are safe in adults and children. However, they can sometimes cause side effects. The flu vaccine is available at primary healthcare facilities (clinics, day hospitals and hospitals). High-risk population groups are encouraged to get the flu vaccine at their local clinic, or at private health facilities through medical aid or out of pocket.
“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,” advises public health specialist, Dr David Pienaar.
We are expecting the 5th wave in late April or early May. 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.
“We know that the COVID-19 vaccine is effective. We also know that the virus is highly transmissible and can spread fast, especially where people gather and there is a lack of ventilation and mask-wearing. Ensure your COVID-19 vaccines are up to date and that you stay home if you experience any flu-like symptoms,” says public health specialist, Dr David Pienaar.
He also warns about the possibility of long COVID and that many people who experienced mild infections can suffer from fatigue, cough, 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 health specialist Dr David Pienaar.
Both COVID-19 primary doses and booster doses are especially important for immunocompromised persons. This includes those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and also those with cancer and related illnesses.
“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,” says vaccination administrator Sr Norma Boer from DP Marais Hospital.
For more information visit:
Link to First 1000 Days – www.westerncape.gov.za/first-1000-days
Link to Road to Health Booklet: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/new-road-health-booklet-side-side-road-health
Link to Immunisation Schedule: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/service/immunisation