W.H.O. calls on parents to vaccinate children amidst measles epidemic

The Head of the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) office in Samoa, Dr. Rasul Baghirov, has urged Samoan parents to get their children vaccinated.

The message comes at a time when there is a renewed sense of urgency about vaccination following the Ministry of Health’s declaration of a measles epidemic in the country.

According to Dr. Rasul, now is not the time to be indecisive about vaccination. 

“We do know that there are people and organizations which are trying to undermine vaccination and they add on to the concerns of parents,” said Dr. Rasul.

He added that the deaths of the babies in Savai’i last year, after they were administered M.M.R. has not helped.

“But the investigation has concluded and we now know the cause of deaths for the kids. We also know that the vaccine itself is safe and not to be blamed,” he said.

The outbreak of measles is an example of why members of the public, especially children, need to be vaccinated. 

Dr. Baghirov also called for people to take care and heed the advice from the local health authorities.

He encouraged children to wear face masks in places like the hospital.

“Many patients come to the hospital not yet knowing what they might have. They might have fever, cough, they might sneeze and not necessarily when they have spots on the body so they might not know whether they have measles or not.”

Measles, according to Dr. Baghirov, is a dangerous disease.

“It’s dangerous in a sense that it can be spread easily but not everyone will develop complications. 

“So it’s important for people to exercise good hygiene, protect the face if they’re suspecting measles.” 

W.H.O has already provided guidelines in terms of how to manage people who are already suffering from measles. 

They are also working with local authorities to provide help where they can, especially in monitoring and surveillance.

Dr. Baghirov acknowledged that a good number of parents have turned up for vaccination.

 “We know that there is understanding amongst the parents, communities as well and that is important. Yes there are still some reluctance but I think we see less and less.”

Earlier this year, W.H.O. issued this advisory about vaccination: 

Help to protect your family and community. Get vaccinated.  

Globally and in the Western Pacific Region there has been a dramatic increase in measles cases. This is extremely worrying and threatens the health and safety of our communities from diseases that are preventable through vaccination. The World Health Organization Samoa Country Office wishes to reinforce the effectiveness and safety of vaccination as the best protection against vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, and encourages all community members to ensure that they and their children are vaccinated, according to the national immunization schedule.   

Why do we need vaccines and how do they work?

Individuals need vaccines to protect them from serious infectious diseases which are preventable through vaccination. Vaccines help your immune system fight infections more efficiently by sparking your immune response to specific diseases. Then, if the virus or bacteria ever invades your body in the future, your immune system will already know how to fight it. This is called immunity. 

What is ‘herd immunity’ and why does it provide the best protection against outbreaks? 

When you and enough people in your community are vaccinated against infectious diseases like measles, these diseases are prevented from spreading or causing outbreaks. This is called herd immunity. Communities need herd immunity as this provides the best protection against a disease from spreading and infecting the most vulnerable members of our community who can’t be vaccinated, like young babies or individuals with certain health conditions.

Why do some people who have been vaccinated still get sick?  

Vaccines help a person’s immune system create a protection against specific diseases. However, not everyone’s immune system responds in the same way, and for some, their response to a vaccine might not be enough to create immunity. 

For most vaccines, 85-99% of vaccinated individuals will gain immunity, which means that around 15 out of every 100 vaccinated individuals will not. This is why multiple doses are needed for some vaccines and why we rely on herd immunity to protect our communities from disease outbreaks. Even countries that have high immunization coverage are still at risk of outbreaks, although less so, because there may be some groups of people who are not immunized, which allows the disease to spread.   

Can vaccination weaken a child’s immune system?

Vaccines do not make a child sick with the disease and does not weaken their immune system. Instead vaccines help their bodies develop their natural defence mechanisms to protect again these diseases. Being vaccinated against one disease also does not weaken the immune response to another disease and there is no evidence of vaccination causing a child to develop allergic, autoimmune and respiratory diseases later in life.

How safe are vaccines?

Vaccines are safe. All vaccines go through rigorous safety testing, including clinical trials where they are tested on thousands of people before they are approved for use by the public. Scientists are also constantly monitoring information from several sources for any sign that a vaccine may cause an adverse reaction. Most vaccine reactions are usually minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. In rare and unfortunate situations where a serious side effect is reported, these are investigated immediately to determine the cause. 

Are alternates treatment to vaccines, like vitamin A and C, effective?

In certain populations, WHO recommends children are provided vitamin A supplements with immunization services, as it has been shown to reduce child mortality in up to 24%. However, vitamins such as A and C are not a replacement to vaccination as they do not provide immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles.  

For more information about vaccines, visit: https://www.who.int/campaigns/immunization-week/2018/en/

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