The argument over whether or not to vaccinate continues to spark fierce debate among competing voices, particularly in light of recent reports of 19 infants being given the incorrect vaccine at a hospital in Cape Town, exposing them to the tuberculosis virus.

To add to the general concern of the public, South Africans are now being urged to vaccinate against the flu virus following reports that the United States experienced nearly 30 child mortalities due to the illness, its worst outbreak of the strain in recent times. This debate is set to be highlighted again during African Vaccination Week, which commences on 24 April.

According to Graham Anderson, Principal Officer and CEO of Profmed, vaccinations play a crucial role in keeping communities healthy and free from preventable disease. “It is crucial, however, that medical professionals are correctly trained and educated on the administration of vaccinations, and that the public also have a good understanding of what the process entails.

He adds that vaccinations are extremely important, especially among young children, as they protect against various strains of disease and infection. “Prevention will always be better than cure and when correctly delivered, vaccinations can mean avoiding the suffering and expense that come with these diseases before they manifest,” he explains.

Anderson notes that there are certain pressure groups, both locally and internationally, who are opposed to vaccinations, further raising the risk of the spread of disease. “This may be the result of a lack of education and awareness on the availability of vaccinations, but even more concerning is the fact that many actively choose not to vaccinate,” he says.

One example of the consequences of not vaccinating was also seen in the United States, when a recent Meningitis outbreak killed 64 people, whilst also affecting a further 750.

“Most diseases that are vaccine-preventable are highly contagious – such as influenza, meningitis and whooping cough,” notes Anderson. “When you choose not to have your child vaccinated, you are exposing them to a host of possible infections.”

The key to overcoming this obstacle is education, says Anderson, to ensure parents understand what their children are being vaccinated against, the options that are available, and who they can speak to for more information.”

Anderson advises that individuals thoroughly research and ask their doctors about basic vaccination options.  Infant vaccinations are particularly important in the first few days / weeks after the birth of a child. These include vaccinations against polio, measles, Hepatitis B, tetanus, pertussis and tuberculosis. Parents can download the Department of Health’s immunisation schedule or visit their nearest pharmacy where a nurse will provide them with all the required information.

Further, individuals should regularly vaccinate against influenza. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the flu virus attacks 5 – 10% of adults and 20 – 30% of children worldwide annually. 250 000 to 500 000 deaths are recorded per year as a result of the virus, further highlighting the importance of vaccination.

“While schedules do change on a yearly basis, is it important that you keep yourself abreast with the latest vaccination recomendations. Not only can this affect you personally, but also your community. If the bigger picture is considered, the confidence of living in a safer society will be a more achievable reality,” concludes Anderson.

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