African Vaccination Week 19-25 April
African Vaccination Week 19-25 April
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the importance of vaccination due to the scramble for pharmaceutical companies to develop and produce vaccines for a deadly virus. It also highlights the vaccination strategies of countries or the lack thereof. Africa might be one of the biggest continents with some of the oldest civilizations but it is also one of the poorest. Many of the countries on the continent don’t have access to food, water or medicine. This triple-threat makes most communities very vulnerable to disease outbreaks like Ebola, and most recently, COVID-19.
It’s very important that we highlight the importance of vaccines and healthcare in Africa.
The World Health Organization works with countries across the globe to raise awareness of the value of vaccines and immunisation. It ensures that governments obtain the necessary guidance and technical support to implement high quality immunisation programs.
This worldwide collaboration provides an opportunity to boost momentum and focus on specific actions such as:
- Raising awareness on how immunisation saves lives
- Increasing vaccination coverage to prevent disease outbreaks
- Reaching underserved and marginalised communities ― particularly those living in remote areas, deprived urban settings, fragile states and strife-torn regions, with existing and newly available vaccines
- Reinforcing the medium and long-term benefits of immunisation, giving children a chance to grow up healthy, go to school and improve their life prospects.
Vaccination is a simple, safe, and effective way of protecting people against harmful diseases, before they come into contact with them. It uses your body’s natural defences to build resistance to specific infections and makes your immune system stronger. Vaccines train your immune system to create antibodies, just as it does when it’s exposed to a disease. However, because vaccines contain only killed or weakened forms of germs like viruses or bacteria, they do not cause the disease or put you at risk of its complications.
PROTECTING INDIVIDUALS AND COMMUNITIES
When a person gets vaccinated against a disease, their risk of infection is also reduced – so they’re also less likely to transmit the virus or bacteria to others. As more people in a community get vaccinated, fewer people remain vulnerable, and there is less possibility for an infected person to pass the pathogen on to another person. Lowering the possibility for a pathogen to circulate in the community protects those who cannot be vaccinated (due to health conditions, like allergies, or their age) from the disease targeted by the vaccine.
‘Herd immunity’, also known as ‘population immunity’, is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when immunity develops in a population either through vaccination or through previous infection. Herd immunity does not mean unvaccinated or individuals who have not previously been infected are themselves immune. Instead, herd immunity exists when individuals who are not immune, but live in a community with a high proportion of immunity, have a reduced risk of disease as compared to non-immune individuals living in a community with a small proportion of immunity.
Even after herd immunity is first reached and a reduced risk of disease among unimmunized people is observed, this risk will keep falling if vaccination coverage continues to increase. When vaccine coverage is very high, the risk of disease among those who are non-immune can become similar to those who are truly immune.
For COVID-19, a new disease causing a global pandemic, many vaccines are in development and some are in the early phase of rollout, having demonstrated safety and efficacy against disease. The proportion of the population that must be vaccinated against COVID-19 to begin inducing herd immunity is not known. This is an important area of research and will likely vary according to the community, the vaccine, the populations prioritized for vaccination, and other factors. Herd immunity is an important attribute of vaccines against polio, rotavirus, pneumococcus, Haemophilus influenzae type B, yellow fever, meningococcus and numerous other vaccine preventable diseases.
Click HERE for more information from WHO.
Are vaccines safe for poorer communities?
Any licensed vaccine is rigorously tested across multiple phases of trials before it is approved for use, and regularly reassessed once it is introduced. Scientists are also constantly monitoring information from several sources for any sign that a vaccine may cause health risks.
Like any medicine, vaccines can cause mild side effects, such as a low-grade fever, or pain or redness at the injection site. Mild reactions go away within a few days on their own. Severe or long-lasting side effects are extremely rare. Vaccines are continually monitored for safety, to detect rare adverse events.
Overall, vaccines are safe for any individual or community and is very necessary for the healthy future of the continent and the world.
VACCINES IN AFRICA
Together with the WHO the world is always striving to improve healthcare and vaccine programs across Africa. Many communities in Africa do not have access to these important resources and so need the help of the rest of the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic it’s even more evident that more needs to be done.
As countries start to receive vaccines and work on rollout, we should do what we can to donate and spread awareness of this crisis. We shouldn’t just have this one week to acknowledge this crisis but it is a good focal point to start.
In South Africa the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has slowly begun and over 2000 health workers have been vaccinated. Mediwell Medical and the Healthcare Workers Heroes Memorial (HCWH Memorial) remembers those healthcare workers who have already left us during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need healthcare workers in Africa and more access for individuals to become healthcare workers.
Dr. Maggie Mojapelo-Mokotedi