Opinion: Why we need to take vaccination more seriously

This year’s themes are ‘Protected together, #Vaccines Work’ and ‘Vaccines work, Do your part!’. They embody the core message of the overarching slogan of the African Vaccination week which is ‘Vaccinated communities, Healthy communities’.

The last week of April simultaneously marks the World Health Organisation’s World Immunisation Week and the African Vaccination Week. It is a week of hope and determination as focus shifts to a health intervention whose public health impact is hailed to be second only to clean water. 

This year’s themes are ‘Protected together, #Vaccines Work’ and ‘Vaccines work, Do your part!’. They embody the core message of the overarching slogan of the African Vaccination week which is ‘Vaccinated communities, Healthy communities’.

In the years before 1980, immunisation in Kenya was carried out on an ad hoc basis through learning institutions and in emergency response to disease outbreaks. Subsequently these efforts were organised to provide a platform for routine immunisation. Today’s child has access to vaccines that help prevent a variety of ailments including hepatitis B, measles, rubella, whooping cough, diphtheria, pneumonia, polio, rotavirus diarrhoea and tetanus.

For rotavirus diarrhoea, while handwashing exclusive breast feeding and sanitation are helpful, they are not enough to prevent disease.

 In fact, in the absence of vaccination, this disease will affect almost every child by the age of 3-5, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Infants and young children are most predisposed to severe rotavirus diarrhoea which can be life-threatening.

Those who suffer most are children in developing countries where there are challenges in accessing healthcare.

While diseases like whooping cough are rarely seen nowadays, failure to vaccinate will result in their re-appearance. In 1977, the last natural case of smallpox was reported and by 1979 the disease was eradicated. This positive step was made possible – in part – due to vaccination. To achieve the dream of health for all other diseases are targeted in the same way.

Worldwide, since the advent of vaccination, the number of cases of paralytic polio has reduced by 99%. The next step is to eradicate the disease. This Global Polio Eradication Initiative, which is a public-private partnership, has worldwide polio eradication as its sole aim.

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases ever known and is an important cause of death and disability among young children worldwide. Rubella can cause severe birth defects. Already, since 2000, the measles vaccine has averted 20.4 million deaths and there is global commitment for elimination of the disease.

To fully enjoy benefits of vaccination, it is important to consistently ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated.

Apart from the obvious health benefits, there are economic benefits to be enjoyed. It is estimated that increasing vaccine coverage in low- and middle-income countries by 2030, could result in 24 million people being prevented from falling into poverty due to health expenses.

Immunisation is part of the essential package for healthcare. The 2012 Global Vaccine Action Plan, endorsed by WHO Member States, calls for commitment to ensuring no one misses out on vital immunisations. Further the Addis Declaration of 2016, recognizing every child’s right to health, is a commitment by Governments to invest in their respective immunisation programmes.

The 2015 target was to ensure that at least 90% children completing course of primary vaccination. The 2016 the global completion rate was 86%, falling short of the target.

 This 14% represents approximately 19 million children. These children, half of whom reside in war-torn countries, are at a high risk of acquiring vaccine-preventable diseases many of which are life-threatening. An impressive amount of time and effort goes on into the background from policy to planning, logistics and delivery to ensure that we each receive our much-needed shots. This should not be taken for granted.