To vaccinate or not?

As a parent, you probably got to learn about vaccines when you were pregnant and after the birth of your child. In Kenya, all children must be immunized to prevent diseases. Due to this, there has been a long-standing debate on how safe and necessary they are. Many issues like beliefs and culture, religion and even science have all been vocal about vaccine administration. So ever thought critically about what they entail?

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In December 1958, Robin Cavendish, while in Kenya became ill with polio. He was paralyzed from neck down and was put on a mechanical respirator which aided him in breathing. After his recovery he spent the rest of his life advocating for disabled people and as a developer of medical aids for paralyzed people he popularized a new wheelchair with a built-in respirator. He later died in 1994 at the age of 64, becoming the oldest polio victim ever to exist. Robin Cavendish’s story and works as a polio survivor have been detailed in a movie called ‘Breathe’ which premiered back in 2017.     

In 2014, a local TV station in the country aired a story featuring an artist in Nyeri; Mary Wanja. The 55 years old at the time, lost her limbs to polio at the age of six, as a result, the attack left her unable to use both her hands and legs. Despite her disability, after recovering from the hospital she learnt how to paint and draw using her mouth. A skill she uses to earn a living and also inspire others to defy odds in all walks of life.

In 2015, two children died and 7 others were left in critical condition in Elgeyo- Marakwet moments after receiving a measles vaccine. This happened amid an ongoing immunization campaign that the government was running. Still in 2015, 18 children became paralyzed after receiving a polio vaccination in Busia County.

In 2019, baby Austin Njoroge had his arm and leg amputated after a BCG vaccination went wrong. This was after the injection areas started to swell and turned black. The case was termed as negligent.

With a lot of controversy and debate surrounding vaccines, what exactly are they?

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So, a vaccine is a substance that helps protect against certain diseases. Vaccines can either be Prophylactic – to prevent future infection from occurring or Therapeutic – to fight a disease that has already occurred. They have proved to play a great role in immunization and help save millions of lives all over the world.

Vaccines are known to offer a lifelong immunity, whereby, in cases where one had a particular disease; future contraction of the same disease is guaranteed because the vaccinated body builds immunity against it. Vaccines also help in increasing life expectancy and promote general health of the public; good health is fundamental to both social and economic growth. It is therefore usually advisable to make sure your child has been vaccinated as a way to protect them from diseases.

In cases where a child is not vaccinated, one risks contracting serious illnesses and disease which can be vaccine prevented. This may in turn take a toll to the society because some of the diseases are communicable e.g. measles which are spread from one person to the other.

However, there are common side effects of immunization such as, scarring at the site of injection, fever and soreness of the arm/leg. Also if not administered as required and directed it may lead to limbs amputation as seen in the case of baby Austin Njoroge, where doctors were forced to carry a partial amputation after a vaccination gone wrong.

Other common advantages and disadvantages of vaccines include;

Advantages;   

  • When an individual is vaccinated, their chances of falling ill from that disease are greatly reduced.
  • It costs less to vaccinate rather than to treat the disease
  • Prevents epidemics and pandemics
  • You are able to travel to countries which require certain vaccines

Disadvantages;

  • Some vaccines have severe side effects that affect the individual’s quality of life.
  • Some vaccines have caused death after adverse reactions.
  • They are not 100% guaranteed to work and provide protection.

In Kenya, the immunization schedule as launched by the Expanded Programme on Immunization (KEPI) in 1980, aims at providing immunizations against six killer childhood diseases. These diseases are tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles which are all administered to all children in the country before reaching their first birthday.

The vaccines are scheduled as follows:

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  • At Birth (BCG, OPV, HEP.B) – for prevention of Tuberculosis, Polio, Hepatitis B
  • At 6 Weeks (DPT, HIB, HEP B, OPV, PNEUMOCOCCAL, ROTA VIRUS) 
  • At 10 Weeks (DPT, HIB, HEP B, OPV, PNEUMOCOCCAL, ROTA VIRUS)
  • At 14 Weeks (DPT, HIB, HEP B, OPV, PNEUMOCOCCAL, ROTA VIRUS)

From 6 weeks to 14 weeks, diseases prevented are namely; Diptheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Haemophilae, Influenza Type B, Hepatitis B, Polio, Pneumonia Rotavirus

  • At 6 Months (VIT A) – Vitamin A Deficiency
  • At 9 Months (MEASLES, YELLOW FEVER) – Measles, Yellow Fever

 Other vaccines offered to children and adults include:

  • Typhoid – 2 years
  • MMR (Mumps, Measles and Rubella) – 15 months
  • Menactra 1 (Meningitis) – 9 months
  • Chicken Pox I & II – 9 and 11 months
  • Flu Vaccine – 6 and 7 months
  • Influenza
  • Hepatitis A & B 
  • Tdap booster
  • Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV)
  • Yellow Fever – especially in cases of travel into and out of countries.  

Those travelling to Kenya are usually required to have hepatitis A and B, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, rabies, and meningitis vaccines.

Are vaccines safe?

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It is imperative for a parent or adult wishing to get immunized against something, to have the proper information before they get vaccinated. Vaccines are usually termed as ‘safe’ but the word safe should mean risk-free but the vaccinations are not 100% risk free. Ask yourself if the pro’s outweigh the con’s and if you are better having them than not.

Doing a little research on the vaccine in question is advisable as it gives you the information needed before embarking on the journey. It is therefore up to you to decide whether it’s safe or not!

Happy deciding!

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