Contrary to popular belief, the immunity conferred on children through the colostrum does not suffice to protect that child from diseases all through the baby’s life. In fact, that immunity diminishes as the baby grows, experts say. They also confirm that it is true that newborn babies are immune to many diseases because they have antibodies they got from their mothers. However, this immunity goes away during the first year of life.
Therefore, vaccines are meant to be given to babies before the mother’s antibodies completely disappear, experts say. Immunisation, according to experts, is the process whereby a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine. Vaccines stimulate the body’s own immune system to protect the person against subsequent infection or disease.
Before vaccines, many children died from diseases such as whooping cough, measles and polio.
In Nigeria, vaccine preventable diseases which include chicken pox, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, tetanus, HIB, Influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, Typhoid fever, Rabies, rota virus, Yellow fever, whooping cough etc, account for approximately 22 per cent of child deaths, amounting to over 200,000 deaths per year.
Recently, the National Chairman, Nigeria Medical Association, (NMA), Mike Ogirima, decried the declining immunisation coverage in the country and urged governments at all levels to do more.
Mr. Ogirima gave the warning while addressing a news conference in Ilorin to mark the 2017 Physician Week.
He said that the 2016/2017 National Immunisation Coverage Survey (NCIS) indicated that only 33 per cent of children around 12 to 23 months of age had three doses of pentavalent vaccine against the global target of 90 per cent and only 23 per cent were fully immunised.
He said 40 per cent do not receive any vaccines from the health systems, warning that a large population of Nigerian children particularly less than five years are unprotected.
According to him, these children are at risk of dying from vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, diphtheria, pertusis and tuberculosis among others.
Mr. Ogirima warned that it is a danger and threat to the survival of Nigeria as no meaningful development could take place in a society where disease and death was ravaging the potential leaders and hopes of tomorrow.
How do vaccines work
When disease germs enter the body, they start to reproduce. The immune system recognises these germs as foreign invaders and responds by making proteins called antibodies. These antibodies’ first help destroy the germs that are making the person sick. They can’t act fast enough to prevent the person from becoming sick, but by eliminating the attacking germs, antibodies help them to get well. The antibodies’ second job is to protect people from future infections. Antibodies remain in the bloodstream, and if the same germ ever tries to infect the person again, even after many years, such antibodies would come to the person’s defence.
“Only now that they are experienced at fighting these particular germs, can they destroy them before they have a chance to make you sick. This is immunity. It is why most people get diseases like measles or chickenpox only once, even though they might be exposed many times during their lifetime,” experts say.
Vaccines help people develop immunity without getting sick first. Vaccines are made from the same germs or parts of them that cause disease. Once vaccines are introduced to the body, the immune system reacts to the vaccine in a similar way as if it were being invaded by the disease by producing antibodies. These antibodies destroy the vaccine germs just as they would the disease germs. Then they stay in the body, giving people immunity. If such people who have received vaccines are ever exposed to the real disease, the antibodies are there to protect them.
‘Benefits of immunisation outweighs risk’
Consultant Pulmonologist and Senior Lecturer, College of Medicine, University of Lagos (CMUL), Dr. Obianuju Ozoh, in an interview with a national daily disclosed that parents due to some cultural, religious belief, illiteracy and hearsay deprive their children of life-saving vaccinations made available through immunisation thereby, exposing them to infectious diseases that cause deaths and deformities.
Ozoh noted that the benefits of immunisation cannot be overemphasized revealing that it is important to get babies immunized because when a child is born, they have no immunity at all and are therefore prone and at risk of infectious diseases. She however said that they are a little bit protected from their mother’s immunity but that it wanes within a short time.
According to Ozoh, “The time to immunize a baby is right from birth and if you understand the immunisation protocol, it is followed right from birth. The children have no immunity; they are not able to fight infections by themselves. Therefore, you give vaccination to protect them and get them prepared for the challenges ahead from these infectious diseases which are going to occur.”
“There is always a programme for immunisation in every country. In Nigeria, we have a National Programme on immunisation (NPI), which stipulates the number of immunisation that a child should get; the schedule and all that. Some of them are mandatory, some of them are optional but there is standard set by every country and that is often adopted.”
We have cases of parents who do not believe in this programme either because of some sort of cultural, religious or personal beliefs. What is your advice to these kinds of people? She said: “My advice to them is that the benefit of immunisation far outweighs the risk. A child having whooping cough, diphtheria can kill that child but the side effects of immunisation, fever, a much milder and often goes even without treatment. A lot of people also have belief of long term side effects but it is shown that those side effects are minimal compared to the protection received from immunisation.”
The expert added that “we need to encourage everybody to get immunized. Although there are risks which includes fever, swellings, abscess and others, those risks are minor as compared to protection you receive from immunisation.”
Speaking on the consequence for the child if he/she is not vaccinated, Ozor said: “It means that child has not received protection the way he/she is supposed to receive it and could be prone to the diseases which the child could be immune to.”
She equally explained the role of healthcare providers in driving immunisation home to Nigerians as thus: “The role is to advise patients on the benefits of immunisation, know those who have fears and address those fears and concerns such that they will understand that the benefits outweighs the risks. Also, sometimes, some people are not even aware of the vaccines they need to receive. It is also the role of the healthcare provider to educate patient on the vaccines available to them to receive and encourage them to get it.”
More benefits of immunisation
Provision of individual immunity: It provides long-term, sometimes lifelong protection against a disease. The vaccines recommended in the early childhood immunisation schedule protect children from measles, chicken pox, pneumococcal disease, and other illnesses. As children grow older, additional vaccines protect them from diseases that affect adolescents and adults, as well as for diseases they may encounter during travel to other regions.
Herd/Community immunity: This refers to the protection offered to everyone in a community by high vaccination rates. With enough people immunised against a given disease, it’s difficult for the disease to gain a foothold in the community. This offers some protection to those who are unable to receive vaccinations—including newborns and individuals with chronic illnesses—by reducing the likelihood of an outbreak that could expose them to the disease. It also protects vaccinated individuals who may not have been fully immunised against a disease.