Immunisation is one of the best ways you can protect yourself, your children and future generations from infectious diseases. Child immunisation is important because it helps children acquire immunity, which is biological protection from infectious diseases.
The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) is one of South Africa’s major public health initiatives. It aims is to prevent deaths and reduce suffering caused by childhood diseases that can be prevented through immunisation.
“Vaccines are produced by growing bacteria and viruses and then making them less infectious. These are then given to children orally or by injection to produce antibodies by the child’s immune system," explains Professor Dini Mawela, Head of Department for Paediatrics and Child Health at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University/Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital.
She adds that the antibodies protect the child from getting infections or severe disease from bacteria or viruses against which they have been immunised.
How does it work?
Through the EPI, children are vaccinated from birth until the age of 12 years, according to a set schedule.
Vaccination is free of charge at all government health facilities.
“The government provides vaccines against rotavirus (one of the viruses that cause diarrhoea) and pneumococcal disease (such as meningitis, otitis media, pneumonia, bacteraemia),” explains Mawela.
Girls over nine years get vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, which protects them from cervical cancer.
Keeping to the schedule
Dr Thokozani Ngwane, Senior Specialist in Paediatrics and Child Health at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University/Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital, says it is important that children do not miss their immunisation appointments.
“Vaccines not only protect individuals who are vaccinated, but the community at large,” says Ngwane.
While children should ideally have their vaccinations on time, according to the recommended government schedule, if your child misses a jab, it is important to speak to your healthcare worker.
“Healthcare workers will identify all the missed opportunities and plan the catch-up of the missed doses. Each situation involving catch-up is unique and needs to be evaluated on an individual basis,” says Ngwane.
For more information on the EPI, visit your local public health facility or visit www.health.gov.za.