Why it’s important to stick to a vaccination schedule

By admin
23 July 2014

Do you think it’s okay to skip or postpone your child’s immunisation? Experts warn you should never risk it.

Although some baby clinics in South Africa recommend postponing vaccines if a mother is concerned about the effect a vaccination might have on her child, experts now warn that doing this, or even worse, forgetting or ignoring your child’s immunisations, could be deadly.

After recent outbreaks of measles and whooping cough (pertussis) in the USA, Time magazine online reported on an interview with Dr Michael J Smith, a paediatrician at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, USA, who studies immunisations and developmental health outcomes in children.

“You never know when you’re going to get hit,” says Dr Smith. “And if you delay or space out your child’s shots, not only are you putting your kids at risk but you’re putting other kids at risk too.” He says skipping or postponing a shot is like postponing buckling up your child in their car seat until you reach the next traffic light.

Anelle Greyling is a specialist nurse at Panorama Breastfeeding Clinic in Cape Town and says she completely agrees with this view. “Although it’s better to do a vaccination late than to skip it, every day that you delay an immunisation is a risk. We’ve seen more cases of pertussis lately than in the past and we often see it in babies younger than six weeks – in other words those who are too young to be immunised. The source is often from one of the parents or a nanny. We advise all parents, grandparents and child minders to also have themselves immunised, specifically against pertussis, to create a cocoon of safety around the young baby.”

Panorama Breastfeeding Clinic recommends mothers stick to the prescribed immunisation schedule. “The vaccines are developed to fit into the development of a baby’s own immunity. So if you’re doing some earlier (or later), it won’t be as effective.”

Greyling says parents don’t have to be concerned that immunisations will overload their baby’s immune systems. “You expose your baby to more bacteria by opening a pot of shop-bought baby food than you do when giving him a vaccination. The new vaccinations also have a lower antigen load, meaning side effects are much less than it used to be in the past.”

She adds that all the vaccines scheduled are critically important. “Babies are immunised against polio, TB, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and Hib (haemophilus influenza type B) in the first months, as well as hepatitis B, the pneumoccocal illness and rotavirus (gastro). These not only protect against pneumonia, but also against bacterial meningitis, which is life-threatening. ” At nine months they also get immunised against pneumococcal conjugate and the first measles shot, which forms part of the EPI-SA schedule (Expanded Programme on Immunisation in South Africa) as introduced in 2010.

The major changes included adding pneumococcal conjugate (Prevenar®), rotavirus (Rotarix®) and the pentavalent (Pentaxim®) vaccines to the schedule.

Here is the official EPI-SA schedule:

  • Birth

    • Oral polio vaccine (0)
    • BCG vaccine against TB

  • 6 Weeks

    • Oral polio vaccine (1)
    • Rotavirus vaccine (1)
    • DTaP-IPV/Hib (1) (this vaccinates against diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, inactivated polio vaccine and haemophilus influenza type B)
    • HBV against hepatitis (1) and the pneumococcal conjugated vaccine (1)

  • 10 Weeks

    • DTaP-IPV//Hib (2)
    • HBV (2)

  • 14 Weeks

    • Rotavirus vaccine (2)
    • DTaP-IPV//Hib (3)
    • HBV (3) and pneumococcal conjugated vaccine (2)

  • 9 Months

    • Measles vaccine (1)
    • Pneumococcal conjugated vaccine (3)

  • 18 Months

    • DTaP-IPV//Hib (4)
    • Measles vaccine (2)

Parents also have the option of following a private practise schedule from the age of 12 months, which include all of the above as well as the following additional immunisations:

  • 12 Months

    • Chicken pox and Hepatitis A

  • 15 Months

    • MMR (mumps, measles and rubella)

  • 18 Months

    • Hepatitis A booster

Greyling adds that a chicken pox immunisation called Varilrix can also be given to babies who are at high risk, for example premature babies or babies suffering from a compromised immune system, from nine months. It’s not widely available in South Africa but is being imported and sold by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

-Dalena Theron

Extra sources: time.com, www.kznhealth.gov.za, health24.com

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