If you want what is best for your children, get them vaccinated!
All parents want what is best for their children. Every decision is aimed at giving them the best life possible. If we had access to food and shelter, we would never consider denying them to our children. So why are more than a third of children in Madagascar not vaccinated?
Vaccines have been the world's safest way to protect children against potentially deadly diseases for more than two centuries. Vaccinated children do better in school, generating economic benefits that impact their communities. Vaccinations in the first and second year of a child’s life are particularly important, as young children have weak immune systems, making them vulnerable to many diseases. Vaccines act as a shield, protecting families and communities.
Despite their many benefits and the free access to vaccinations, too many parents do not make it a priority to have their children immunized. According to a 2021 Madagascar vaccination coverage survey, nearly a quarter of parents polled said the reason their child had not been vaccinated was that they were “too busy”. The top response, with nearly 40% of parents citing as their reason for not having vaccinated their child, points to another issue – “the vaccination site was too far away”. Faced with these issues, Madagascar remains one of the countries with the highest number of “zero dose” children, meaning children who have not received any of the recommended vaccinations. More than 300,000 children under the age of one are in this situation, which is more one in three children, according to WHO and UNICEF estimates. When we know that a child in this age bracket should normally receive 16 doses for the six vaccines included in the vaccination programme of Madagascar, this figure is even more astounding.
An unvaccinated child is not ready to fight serious diseases like measles and polio, which can kill or cause permanent damage. If many children in a community are not immunized, a disease such as measles or polio could quickly return and cause a devastating outbreak in the population.
The resurgence of polio in Madagascar since September 2020 is mainly due to the very low number of children who have received the recommended polio vaccine. Data from the Ministry of Public Health shows that in the 23 regions of Madagascar, less than half of children have received the first dose of the polio vaccine at birth. We are a far cry from the national objective to vaccinate 90% of newborns against this disease. Polio is a highly infectious disease that attacks the nervous system and can cause lifelong paralysis or even death. But it is also an easily preventable disease thanks to immunization.
To protect the health of their children, every parent should ensure that they receive the BCG vaccine at birth, which protects against tuberculosis, and the first polio vaccine (OPV0). Parents should then keep taking their children to the nearest health center or vaccination point to attend their vaccination appointments according to the vaccination schedule. Parents should also make sure that their children are vaccinated during special campaigns against diseases such as polio and measles. This should be done even when the child has already completed all rounds of routine vaccinations to guarantee lifelong protection against these serious illnesses.
As parents, we have many demands placed upon us. But the health of our children is of course our priority. Political, religious, and traditional leaders, as well as community networks, all have a role to play in raising awareness among parents and dramatically reduce the number of “zero dose” children. Protecting our children against preventable, though potentially deadly diseases, is the right thing to do – for them, for our communities and for the country.
More must be done to make vaccination sites accessible to families, so that mothers, fathers, and caregivers can bring their children to vaccination appointments without having to miss work.
Wise Malagasy proverbs remain true today: "Aleo misoroka toy izay mitsabo" (Prevention is better than cure); "Ny fahasalamana no voalohankarena" (Health is the first wealth); “Izay tia mahafoy” (Those who love, love unconditionally).
As we mark World Immunization Week, let’s commit ourselves to creating a better future for our children by protecting their health. Let’s vaccinate our children.