Despite Georgina’s busy schedule, she has always ensured that her three young children don’t miss out on immunisation. She is determined to make as many trips as possible to the health centre until her children have been immunised against killer diseases such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus, tuberculosis, whooping cough, measles, haemophilus influenza and hepatitis B among others.
Much as some parents might be as committed as Georgina to their children’s good health, others do not appreciate it that much for various reasons. But this is why immunisation must be taken seriously.
Why you should vaccinate on time
Depending on the dose, immunization vaccines are usually administered at birth, six, 10, 14 weeks, and 9 months.
Dr Rachna Pande, a doctor at Ruhengeri Hospital, says adherence to the vaccination timetable is very essential.
“The time scheduled for subsequent doses helps antibody levels against a specific disease build up. It is advisable to go at the next earliest time possible preferably within 7 days, particularly if it is a second or third dose,” Pande explains.
Thamar Nyiransabiyaremye, a superviser in charge of immunization at Kibogora Hospital, says there are several diseases that can affect a child who is not immunised and mothers should be watchful.
“Since these vaccines are free of charge at all medical centres, all that parents must do is seek advice from health workers on when to bring their children for a shot,” Nyiransabiyaremye says.
Details about the killer diseases
Nyiransabiyaremye explains that the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV) is given within the first two weeks of a child’s birth, and at six, 10 and 14 weeks respectively.
“This protects the baby against poliomyelitis, an infectious disease caused by a virus that lives in the throat and intestinal tract. Polio can also be spread from one individual to another,” she adds.
Other possible sources of contracting polio include nasal secretions from an infected person and stool.
Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus (DPT)
This is offered in 5 doses in form of DTaP vaccine, one dose at each of the following ages: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 15 to 18 months, and 4 to 6 years. DTaP may also be given at the same time as other vaccines.
This helps children to develop immunity against three deadly diseases caused by bacteria including diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (pertussis).
Although ignored, diphtheria can cause breathing problems, paralysis, heart failure and sometimes death. It is also highly contagious since it is spread through coughing and sneezing.
The vaccine is usually given at 9 months and it provides protection against three viral diseases — measles, mumps and rubella.
Statistics from UNICEF indicate that 2,700 measles cases were recorded in the year 2000 in Rwanda. This compelled government to boost efforts to bring down the numbers and two years down the road, cases dropped to 80.
To protect the child from TB, medical workers usually administer Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG vaccine) within the first 15 days of a child’s birth.
According to the World Health Organisation, TB is one of the world’s greatest killer diseases. It is not surprising therefore that in 2013, 9 million cases of TB were registered, while 1.5 million people died from the disease globally.
Research shows that over 95% of TB deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, and it is among the top 5 causes of death for women aged 15 to 44. It is further estimated that in 2013, 550 000 children suffered from TB, while 80 000 HIV-negative children died of TB. Experts also single out TB as the leading killer of HIV-positive people.
Whooping cough vaccine
Whooping cough is a highly contagious disease that causes coughing spasms that are severe so that it makes it difficult for infants to eat, drink, or even breathe. It can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage or death.
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is used for the prevention of pneumonia in children. In Rwanda, according to research, most deaths from pneumonia occur among children. The vaccine is usually administered to children when they reach the age of five.
Although immunization vaccines usually provide immunity for life, Dr Rachna Pande says if someone is infected with HIV/Aids or is malnourished, then another shot is required.
“Vaccines against bacterial infections like tetanus provide absolute immunity for 6 months and relative immunity for 12 months or so. Hence a child is protected against tetanus by 3 shots and subsequent booster doses. But if they are later exposed to infection through injury, another vaccine is needed,” Rachna adds.