The vaccination debate

06 February 2015

Our fear of being vaccinated is catching up with us. In the past few years measles cases have increased in South Africa and overseas, especially in the Britain.

This is why the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) warned again in December last year of the danger of measles. According to the NICD 66 cases were reported between September 2014 and 31 January 2015. A total of 32 cases occurred in the Northern Cape, 16 in Gauteng and four in the Western Cape.

To give an idea of the scope of the problem, in the same period in 2013 and 2014 there were only six cases in South Africa. The NICD warns that if the problem gets out of control we could again have a measles outbreak like the one between 2009 and 2011 when about 18 000 cases were reported.

Measles is caused by a virus and is spread by coughing and sneezing. The symptoms are a fever, coughing, bloodshot eyes and flu-like symptoms with a rash of small, red pimples. Measles can cause blindness, deafness, diarrhoea, dehydration and even death.

Why have people stopped being vaccinated? The fear of vaccination is the result of a study published in the British Medical journal, The Lancet, in 1998. The study alleged that certain vaccinations, specifically the MMR one, could cause autism. Meanwhile the study has been withdrawn by the journal, which in a letter to readers confirmed the study was bogus. The former doctor and researcher responsible for the study, Andrew Wakefield, has been struck off the roll.

Dr Hanneke Heyns, a Cape Town-based paediatririan, says people have forgotten what many of the sicknesses look like that we’re vaccinated against these days. “It’s incredible how afraid of swine flu everyone was, while children’s diseases are much more dangerous and the risk of death higher than any risk associated with vaccination. Measles can cause long-term damage and even death, especially in children with immunity problems such as HIV/Aids.”

Cape Town general practitioner Dr. Romy Vietri, shares this view. She says there are four reasons why she is in favour of vaccinations and why parents shouldn’t be afraid to have their children vaccinated.

1. It’s safe and effective. “Serious side-effects or allergic reactions are so rare that the benefits of avoiding disease far outweigh the possibility of side-effects for most children.”

2. It can save your child’s life. “A good example of the effectiveness of vaccinations is the fact that polio has been almost eradicated by vaccination.”

3. It saves time and money. “Just consider the medical expenses if your child becomes seriously ill – not to mention the possibility of your child being left disabled by a childhood disease.”

4. It protects not only this generation but also those to come. “Take the case of smallpox. In the past it resulted in death and disabilities, but today it no longer occurs.”


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