Why you should immunise your child
Bashir hawks biros, diaries and other stationeries riding his wheel chair along the streets of Abuja. He developed polio as an infant and it left his legs paralysed.
The twenty-four-year-old said his parents did not allow him to be immunised at all when he was a child. According to him, his father believed so strongly that his children would grow into strong men and women without immunisation that he instructed his family members to chase away any vaccination team that came near his compound.
The young man said though he does not hate his parents for denying him vaccination, he wished he was immunised so that he would be walking around with his legs, and have a better source of livelihood to fend for his family.
Hajiya Hassana Ahmed, a Civil Servant and mother of three, said she ensured all her children accessed all the vaccines for routine immunisation, adding that it has made them very healthy and she has not had course to frequent the hospital as they rarely fell sick.
“I took their immunisation seriously and never forgot any of their immunisation dates and appointments at the hospital. They are very healthy children,” she added.
Narrating her experience on the benefits of vaccination, Chika Offor, a member of the Women Advocates for Vaccine Access, WAVA, and Chief Oversight Officer at the Vaccine Network for Disease Control, said when she first stepped into Damangaza, a Hausa Fulani settlement located at Garki Ward of the Abuja Municipal Area Council, in 2011, vaccine-preventable diseases, deaths were rampant and immunisation was non -existent.
She said advocacy to the community convinced them on the need to keep their children alive with vaccines and in 2013, efforts to improve access to vaccines paid off; “as no child died of vaccinepreventable diseases in the community.”
“Women in the community now seek out routine immunisation for their children themselves and men too have lent their voice in support of it,” she said.
Early vaccination prevents disability and early child related diseases, but till date some communities and parents still refuse to allow their children to be immunised. Some of them forget their children’s immunisation appointments at the hospital, and do not let them access vaccination during vaccination exercises.
The 2013 National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS 2013) NDHS shows that about 25% of children (age 12-23 months) had received all the recommended vaccinations while 21% of eligible children received no vaccination at all.
UNICEF said that about three out of 10 under five deaths are caused by diseases for which there are preventive vaccines, such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, tetanus, among others.
One in every five children does not receive the vaccines they need, according to a study by the Women Advocates for Vaccine Access, WAVA.
“Immunisation is the process by which a person is protected from or made resistant to an infectious disease, typically by administering a vaccine at defined periods,” said WAVA.
The difference between immunisation and vaccination is that vaccination is the process of administering vaccines to a person, either through oral drops or by injection while immunisation refers to the protection that is acquired or the immunity process.
All vaccines given via the routine immunisation programme in Nigeria are free in government owned or public health facilities across the country. The free vaccines include BCG (against tuberculosis), polio, Pentavalent vaccines (contain vaccines against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B - HiB), pneumococcal conjugate vaccines, measles and yellow fever. Other vaccines are currently not free of charge.
Dr Chizoba Wonodi, Convener Women Advocates on Vaccine Access (WAVA) said it was important for children to be immunised because unlike adults, the immune systems of children were immature and not strong enough to eliminate many of the germs they may be exposed to.
“Immunisation provides protection to help children fight diseases in their early life, thereby helping to save millions of children around the world from untimely death,” she said.
Dr Wonodi said immunisation should not be seen as an expenditure, but rather as in investment because when countries spend $1, they get back at least $16 in economic gains.
Dr Uche Ewelike, a public health physician and health economist said as a developing nation, the unarguable importance of childhood immunisation could not be overemphasized.
He said it was a cost-effective way of improving the economic, social and living standard of a nation, adding “Today when you talk about immunisation people only look at the immediate benefit of stopping vaccine preventable deaths, without looking at gains in improving cognitive function, improvement in productive capacity, cost of time caring for the sick children and the cost of burden of care on the parents.”
Dr Ewelike, who is also secretary of the Association of Public Health Physicians of Nigeria, Federal Capital Territory chapter, said infant mortality was not just a major indicator for a country’s health system assessment, but also has a very severe consequence on economic growth and development of any nation.
The public health expert said we must therefore walk the talk in achieving a healthy generation through effective immunisation, adding that the benefits were tested, evidence based and development driven.
He said: “For instance if a community embarks on good immunisation practices by mobilising a comprehensive vaccination for children 0-5years in their community, the “herd effect” of vaccines also protects the community. This therefore makes such community healthier and improves the quality of life in such communities.
“Parents should also know that it is morally sound, economically better and parentally protecting to have your children immunised. This will save them from incessant visits to hospital for treatments of vaccine preventable diseases and reduce the regressive out of pocket payment that makes the family poorer. If we must have better families, communities and nation’s productive workforce, we must pay adequate attention to immunisation in this country.”