People normally associate vaccination with children only. However, experts say vaccination should be equally embraced by adults. They say as much as it’s important for any child to be vaccinated, it’s also vital for adults to be vaccinated against different types of diseases that have been emerging in recent years.
Hassan Sibomana, the acting director of the vaccination programme, maternal child and community health division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, Gikondo, says, it’s important because adults too need vaccination to help them prevent contracting and spreading serious diseases such as yellow fever, hepatitis B, meningitis and many others.
He says vaccines can lower the chances of one getting certain diseases, and that they work with the body’s natural defenses to safely develop strong immunity.
Sibomana says such vaccines are important mainly because they provide a lifetime protection against many diseases and infections.
According to him, adults should be vaccinated against many diseases, but at the Gikondo centre they only dwell on those that are a burden in the country.
Sibomana adds that adults should be vaccinated against diseases such as meningitis, whooping cough, influenza, HPV, measles, mumps, rubella, and hepatitis A and B, among others. However, he says they are currently focusing on yellow fever, meningitis and hepatitis B due to the high prevalence.
Diseases vaccinated against
Sibomana says yellow fever and meningitis vaccines are mostly given to people travelling to different countries, where there has been an outbreak of such diseases as well as to just prevent people from acquiring them from other persons.
He says in Rwanda, vaccination for adults started in 2009, noting that all these vaccines are included among those given to children.
“The main reason we started is that we found out that a lot of people have not been vaccinated against some of the diseases, especially hepatitis B. That’s why the vaccine was introduced to adults to prevent further transmission,” says Sibomana.
In Rwanda, he says the prevalence rate among people above 15 years is between 3 and 4 per cent for both Hepatitis B and C, which is just like that of HIV which is 3 per cent. He says this calls for more to be done to reduce the number of those affected and this can only be done by mobilising people to come out in large numbers to be vaccinated.
“The transmission of hepatitis B is very high, and it’s transmitted in the same mode just like HIV - that is through blood transfusion and sexual intercourse. This makes it easier for people to transmit it to each other or to be infected,” he adds.
Sibomana, however, noted that the Ministry of Health has just concluded a campaign on prevention, access to testing, treatment and care of hepatitis as part of this year’s World Hepatitis Day (WHD) celebrations.
According to Dr Jean Damascene Makuza, the acting director of the Viral Hepatitis and STI Unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, most vulnerable groups include medics, sex workers and prisoners, among others, but still everyone should go for testing and screening.
Sibomana says it’s mandatory for all people travelling from one country to another to be vaccinated against yellow fever.
“Yellow fever is a serious, potentially deadly flu-like viral infection, and it can be spread from an infected person to another. The only way to prevent it is to be vaccinated,” he says.
For meningitis, although it’s not mandatory to be vaccinated before travelling, Sibomana says it depends on the country where one is headed. For example, countries located in the Middle East and West Africa have a high burden of meningitis, and it becomes important for one to be vaccinated, just in case they might want to travel there.
According to Dr Theodomir Sebazungu, a gynecologist at University Teaching Hospital, Kigali (CHUK), HPV vaccine is given to girls aged between 11 to 12 to protect them against cancers caused by HPV.
He adds that since HPV infection is most common in people in their late teens and early 20s, it is also recommended for girls and women aged 13 through 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine.
“For 30-year-olds and above, screening to check if they have cervical cancer is important. The HPV vaccine is only effective when one is still young; as one’s age increases, the vaccine also becomes less effective,” he says.
The tetanus vaccine is another one given to adults. Iba Mayale, a gynecologist at Doctors Plaza Clinic in Kimironko, Kigali, says before circumcision, men are given a tetanus vaccine.
This, he says is important because tetanus is transmitted through wounds.
On the other hand, Mayale notes that there are certain diseases, such as measles, where if one had not been vaccinated as a child, it’s a must they get vaccinated even as adults.
He says the same applies for vaccines for pneumonia and polio.
Sibomana says if there’s a possibility that one missed a particular vaccine while they were still young, which is very rare nowadays, they need to get vaccinated to prevent them from such type of disease.
He adds that although we live in an environment where there are lots of bacteria and viruses, one can still be protected naturally; that’s why even if one missed a certain vaccine they may not acquire some diseases later in life.
Sebazungu says some of the vaccines prevent one from getting secondary diseases that are dangerous to one’s health. For example, vaccination against hepatitis prevents one from getting infection of the liver, while that for HPV vaccine lowers the risk of cervical cancer.
Additionally, Dr Francis Kazungu, a general practitioner based in Kigali, says flu vaccine lowers the risk of flu-related heart attacks or other flu-related complications.
Another importance of adult vaccination, he says is some people due to their health conditions or age, it becomes hard to get some vaccinations. “But if one of the family members or any other people get the vaccines, it can help in preventing the spread of the disease.”
Mayale notes that pregnant women should get a dose of Tdap - a combination vaccine that protects against three potentially life-threatening bacterial diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough in order to protect their babies.
EXPERTS SHARE TIPS
Raymond Awazi, pediatrician
Pregnant women need to be vaccinated against whooping cough between 27 and 36 weeks of gestation. This helps to protect their babies because babies below six months are not supposed to be vaccinated against this disease.
Joseph Uwiragiye, nutritionist
One way of preventing some diseases is to eat nutrient-dense foods as this helps in building up the immune system. However, staying away from processed and unhealthy food is also important in preventing certain diseases.
Elise Mugisha, final year medical student at University of Rwanda
There are specific vaccines one may need as an adult and they are determined by different factors such as age, lifestyle, and health condition, among others. For instance, adults who work in healthcare facilities should receive two doses of MMR at least 28 days apart.
Celestine Karangwa, physiotherapist
Just like one needs to watch their diet and lifestyle, they also need to make sure they are updated with all the current vaccination programmes for adults. This will prevent them from either attracting or transmitting diseases that can be easily prevented by vaccination.