By Isioma Madike
Vaccines are among the greatest advances of modern medicine. They have slashed child mortality rates in half, saving millions of lives. They are the world’s safest method to protect children from life-threatening diseases. According to medics, they save more than five lives every minute – preventing up to three million deaths a year, even before the arrival of COVID-19, reports Isioma Madike
Immunisation efforts worldwide, according to medical experts, have made it possible for children to be able to walk, play, dance and learn. Vaccinated children, the experts added, do better at school, with economic benefits that ripple across their communities. Today, vaccines are estimated to be one of the most cost-effective means of advancing global welfare. Despite these longstanding benefits, however, low immunisation levels persist.
Some 20 million children miss out on life-saving vaccines annually, according to global statistics. The most poor and marginalised children – often most in need of vaccines – continue to be the least likely to get them. Many live in countries like Nigeria affected by conflict, in remote areas, or where polio remains endemic. In such places, low immunisation rates also compromise progress in areas of maternal and child health well-being.
A Public Health Physician and the immediate past president of the Guild of Medical Doctors (GMD), Prof. Olufemi Babalola, admitted that vaccinations protect children from deadly diseases, such as polio, tetanus, and diphtheria, and keep other children safe by eliminating or greatly decreasing dangerous diseases that spread from child to child. There are five important reasons why you should vaccinate your child, he said, while insisting it is important for responsible parents to ensure that their children get all the recommended vaccinations at the appropriate time. However, there is a lot of disinformation out there on vaccination, according to him.
He sees this as responsible for the resurgence of hitherto “forgotten” diseases such as measles and mumps. He said: “There are at least five reasons why children should be vaccinated: Immunisations can save your child’s life. Because of advances in medical science, your child can be protected against more diseases than ever before.
“Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children have been eliminated completely and others are close to extinction–primarily due to safe and effective vaccines. “Polio is one example of the great impact that vaccines have had around the world. It was once a most-feared disease, causing death and paralysis across the country, for instance. A former American President Roosevelt also had polio and was confined to a wheelchair.
“Nowadays, due to vaccination, there are no cases in most countries. It will be recalled that Nigeria and Pakistan were the last two countries to struggle with polio due to vaccination hesitancy in some parts even though its vaccination is very safe and effective. “Vaccines are only given to children after long and careful studies. It protects others, not just the vaccinated. It also saves time and money.
However, some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged disabilities and can take a financial toll because of lost time at work, medical bills or long-term disability care. It nonetheless protects future generations. “Vaccines have also reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago.
For example, smallpox vaccination eradicated that disease worldwide.” Professor Maduike Ezeibe, a Veterinary Medicine and Clinical Virology at Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Umudike, Abia State, while agreeing with Babalola, added that Children need revaccination in their adulthood.
He also said that vaccine preventable diseases like measles, chicken pox, polio and the rest means that some (not all) diseases occur only in children. Others, according to him, affect people of any age. Among children diseases, he said, some are “vaccine preventable”, meaning that when children are fully vaccinated, immunity from the vaccines lasts until they are adults and can no longer suffer the diseases. “When a disease is not a children’s disease (affects people of all ages) it may hardly be ‘vaccine preventable’ because immunity from vaccines does not last forever.
“However, if a vaccine can provide immunity for a very long time (over 10 years) like the yellow fever vaccine, it can be used on the condition that people are revaccinated long before their immunity reduces below the level that protects against the disease. “What that means is that protection from yellow fever vaccines lasts longer than 10 years. The choice of 10 year- revaccination period is to ensure immunity remains high enough to ensure the virus does not survive in vaccinated persons.
“When viruses are allowed to establish infections in vaccinated persons (whose antibody levels have reduced below protective level) they change (mutate) to forms (variants) antibody from the vaccine can no longer prevent. “To avoid rapid mutation to new variants of viruses, vaccines that do not produce long lasting protection (over 10 years) should not be used to attempt to prevent diseases, especially those that have no age limit. “Nigerian children should be fully vaccinated against all vaccine preventable children diseases but for diseases that affect people of all ages and for which vaccines that provide long-time immunity (longer than 10 years) the best thing is to look for medicines to promptly treat every infected person. “Such medicine must not come from selected countries before being accepted.
What is needed is that claims for such medicine must be scientific and be clearly understood. “So, for viral diseases that are not ‘children diseases’ and not ‘vaccine preventable’ medicines, such should be used for quick-cure of every infected person so that he/she does not have time to pass the infections to others.”
A family physician, Dr. Rotimi Adesanya, has also said that in the past, children die in masses from these diseases because they had no access to immunisation, and because of lack of knowledge about these diseases in the early days, they were called childhood killer diseases, examples are tetanus, polio, tuberculosis, measles, yellow fever.
He added: “In the past, the vaccines were marketed under this acronym/ body, prevention of childhood killer diseases. But, we thank God that today; the people’s knowledge has increased. There’s easy access to immunisation, there’s acceptance of immunisation now, there’s knowledge that is widely circulated thanks to technology.
“Now through social media, parents can learn the truth about immunisation, parents can get to know more about immunisation, there’s information on the television and radio, print media and on our Mobile devices as everyone either has access to WhatsApp or Facebook.
These are used to spread information like these all over the globe. “As a result, there’s an increase in the number of people having knowledge about these diseases, medical therapy. The advocacy has increased as there are many NGOs that are educating the population about these diseases. These are more than enough reasons why no child should die from these childhood killer diseases.
“In recent times, the South-west region here in Nigeria has recorded little to no deaths of children from these diseases because, if immunisations are administered then, no deaths should be recorded. Another reason why no one should die from vaccine preventable diseases is that the government has made the health centres available in every ward. “They have made the vaccine free of charge and at times the vaccines are brought to the doorstep of the parents through the National Immunisation Days whereby the headquarters will go from house to house to immunise the children against polio, measles, and others that are being done.
“So, as a result of these, I would say that no child should die from these diseases once the vaccination is taken.” In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO), declared vaccine hesitancy to be one of the top threats to public health. While vaccine hesitancy is as old as vaccination itself, the nature of the challenge continues to shift with the social landscape. Today, vaccine hesitancy and the ‘in fodemic’ it fuels are key drivers of under- vaccination across the globe.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, is a grim reminder of the ways in which disease outbreaks can upend lives and livelihoods, with knockdown effects on children’s education, mental health, protection and overall well-being. Infectious diseases are said to be a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide.
As of 2018, the total world population of children 5 years of age was roughly estimated at 679 million. Of these children, an estimated 5.3 million died of all causes in 2018, with an estimated 700,000, who died of vaccine- preventable infectious diseases; 99 per cent of the children who died had lived, according to statistics, in low-and middle-income countries.
The infectious diseases that remain major causes of mortality for which vaccines have been shown to provide proven preventive success include, in order of prevalence, are those caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, Rotavirus, Bordetella pertussis, measles virus, Haemophilus influenzae type B and influenza virus.
“By far, the biggest vaccine-preventable killers of children are pneumonia and diarrhoeal diseases,” said GAVI CEO, Julian Lob-Levyt. “This is unacceptable. The demand by low-income countries for new, life-saving vaccines has never been higher. We must answer their call. “It is the responsibility of GAVI and its partners -UNICEF and WHO, to ensure timely access to life-saving existing vaccines. This contribution will also lay the groundwork for the introduction of an affordable new conjugate vaccine in the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) schedule.”