All about vaccination and immunisation


The human body has a natural immune system, which is acquired by the unborn child from its mother. Further immunity from various diseases is acquired either from exposure to, and recovery from these infections, or through immunisation.

The body produces antibodies to that infection, which remain in the tissues as part of the body’s immune system, which is able to “remember” these infectious organisms. These anti-bodies combat subsequent invasions of the same disease.

Immunisation by vaccine is produced by the introduction of a dead or weakened form of this organism into the body. The immune system is simulated to respond by producing antibodies to thwart any future infections of the same disease.

In the past

Before vaccinations were available many children died or developed severe complications after suffering from infectious diseases. Even with modern medical care, a child contracting any of these diseases would suffer dangerous complications or die.

The benefits of vaccination

Vaccination programmes have been extremely effective in controlling some dangerous diseases and it is hoped by health authorities that once certain diseases are completely killed off there will be no need for vaccination.

The downside of immunisation

The downside of immunisation is that adverse events or problems have been reported after their administration.

For example, vaccines cause a change to the immune-response system, which may result in an alteration to the body’s natural immunity, particularly in those families that have a history of autoimmune disorders. However, these cases appear to be unusual in the vast majority of children and occur in about one child for about 2 million doses of vaccines administered.

About the additives in vaccines

Many parents are concerned about the safety of vaccinations. Some claim that it’s the additives in the vaccines, for example, gelatine or formaldehyde, rather than the vaccine itself that causes the problems.

Thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative found in certain vaccines) has also caused some concern that its use can result in developmental problems such as autism. Despite exhaustive studies this has been found not to be the case.

A dramatic increase in diagnosed cases of the autism-spectrum disorders have been noted by researchers globally, but this has not been linked to any vaccination.

In support of vaccinations

The majority of medical professionals worldwide seem to be of the opinion that the benefits of vaccination to the whole community and the prevention of the appalling consequences of the outbreak of infectious disease far outweigh any risks, which are minimal and affect only a few.

In deciding whether to have your child immunised you need to weigh up the risks of the vaccine against those from the disease.

Most vaccines have no side effects or only mild side effects, such as swelling and redness at the site of the injection or a mild fever. Some crying and irritability is fairly common. A dose of paracetemol 30 minutes before the vaccination and 4-6 hourly thereafter for a day should alleviate these effects, which should disappear within 24 hours. No child should receive any vaccine when ill.


Any child who is known to be allergic to the antibiotics streptomycin, neomycin or polymyxin B should not receive the oral polio vaccine.

Certain vaccines, such as the influenza (flu) vaccine, contain egg proteins and gelatine. These may provoke a reaction in children allergic to these substances

The pertussis vaccine is never given to children who suffer from convulsions (fits) or any active (ongoing) central nervous system disorder, other than febrile convulsions (those suffered as a result of a high fever.)

About the MMR vaccine

The MMR vaccine has received a lot of bad press as it is rumoured to be linked to autism. No sound evidence has been found to substantiate this claim. Children who have experienced a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatine, the antibiotic neomycin or to a previous dose of the MMR vaccine should not have it.

South Africa’s recommended Childhood Vaccination Schedule is adopted from the World Health Organisation. These vaccines are available free of charge at local clinics and community health centres.


  • Birth: OPV 0 and BCG
  • 6 weeks: OPV 1 and DPT 1 and HepB 1 and Hib 1
  • 10 weeks: OPV 2 and DPT 2 and HepB 2 and Hib 2
  • 14 weeks: OPV 3 and DPT 3 and HepB 3 and Hib 3
  • 9 months: Measles 1
  • 18 months: OPV 4 and DPT 4 and Measles 2
  • 5 years: OPV 5 and DT


  • BCG: Bacillus Calmette Guerin vaccine
  • OPV Oral polio vaccine
  • DPT: Diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine
  • HepB: Hepatitis B vaccine
  • Hib: haemophilus influenzae B vaccine

Additional vaccines that you can opt to buy at your own cost include Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and Varicella (chicken pox).

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