•This underscores the success, importance and cost effectiveness of vaccination as a public health intervention.
•Enormous challenges remain in some areas where insecurity, difficulty accessing vaccination sites,
At the beginning of the 20th century, infectious diseases posed a considerable threat to human life, well-being and were a significant cause of morbidity and mortality.
This is the same threat posed by the Covid-19 today, for which there is currently no vaccine.
At present, the threat posed by many diseases has been greatly reduced due to development of vaccines and the increased immunisation coverage.
In 1980, Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunization (KEPI) was set up with the mandate of conducting immunization services across the country.
At that time, the main target was on the six diseases which had high morbidity and mortality rates in children. These included diphtheria, poliomyelitis, whooping cough, tuberculosis, tetanus and measles; and to provide tetanus toxoid immunization to all pregnant women.
HOW COVID-19 WILL BE CONTROLLED
The continued utilisation of vaccines over the years has resulted in the worldwide eradication of smallpox, decreased prevalence of polio and considerable reduction in morbidity and mortality from several other diseases.
This underscores the success, importance and cost effectiveness of vaccination as a public health intervention. There is rigorous protocol for the evaluation of vaccines before they are licensed. Despite this, some people still develop reactions to the antigens and ingredients in the vaccines formulation. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines an Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI) as “any untoward medical occurrence which follows immunization and which does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the usage of the vaccine”.
Most of the AEFIs experienced are minor and are rarely life threatening; they include fever, itching, body rash, vomiting and mild diarrhoea. On the other hand, the diseases prevented by these vaccines are serious and may sometimes lead to death or permanent disability.
However, with decreased rates of vaccine-preventable diseases, people become more concerned of even minor common vaccine-associated adverse events.
This year, the number of measles cases in the United States has reached a 25-year peak, propelled by the spread of misinformation about the vaccine that prevents the disease. A vocal fringe of parents opposes vaccines, believing, contrary to scientific studies, that ingredients in them can cause autism.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 704 cases as of end of April. This the highest number on record since the disease was declared eliminated nationwide in 2000. "The suffering we are seeing today is completely avoidable," US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on the matter.
"We know vaccines are safe because they're among some of the most studied medical products we have." The vast majority of cases occurred in children who had not received the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease.
MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH
In 2003, five northern Nigeria states directed their inhabitants to decline administration of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) to their children, with claims that the vaccines were laced with infertility causing agents in a plan by European and American governments to curb growth of the predominantly Muslim population. As a result, there was re-emergence of polio in more than 15 countries in Africa which were polio-free and the challenges to eradication of this disease remain till present.
Closer home, Health authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo have declared an epidemic of measles which may have killed 1,500 people, according to statistical analysis. Measles has been reported in 23 of the country's 26 provinces with about 87,000 suspected cases since the first of the year.
Despite stepped-up mass vaccination campaigns in some provinces over the past few years, enormous challenges remain in some areas where insecurity, difficulty accessing vaccination sites, population movements, and resistance to vaccination are roadblocks to measles control efforts.
A mass measles vaccination campaign in April reached more than 2.2 million kids across 63 health zones, and a second campaign is slated to begin in the coming days and will target 1.4 million more children across 39 health zones.
Elsewhere in Africa, a measles outbreak in the Comoros Islands has escalated beyond sporadic cases, the country's first since 2005-06, the WHO's African regional office has reported. As of Jun 1, 66 suspected cases had been reported, 16 of them confirmed. The WHO said a decline in immunization levels is one factor fueling the outbreak, and it notes that the country's vaccination program includes only one dose of measles vaccine.
In conclusion, vaccines are simply the best way to protect our children from these viruses and bacteria that can cause real and devastating harm. Let's give ourselves the peace of mind that we have done everything we can to protect our children from these preventable diseases.
Dr Murigoh is a pharmacist in Embu County and a postgraduate student at the University of Nairobi.