Vaccinations protect and are safe for your children

A joint statement by the National Department of Health, UNICEF and the World Health Organization

24 April 2015

All Papua New Guineans are encouraged to take their children to health facilities to have them vaccinated to prevent them from dying or permanent harm from preventable diseases. Vaccination is the most cost effective and safest intervention for preventable diseases.

Vaccination of children has saved millions of lives and has protected children and public from devastating vaccine preventable diseases throughout the world including thousands of lives in Papua New Guinea.

The National Department of Health (NDOH), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF are very concerned about certain misconstrued comments expressed over the last few weeks by anti-vaccination groups on social media that were shared and supported by a former health minister. These comments are found to be wrong and misleading, and it is sad to know that they come from a former health minister. 

It is indeed unfortunate that a former health minister should be advising parents not to vaccinate children, and it is hoped that his advice on the topic which he has clearly been misinformed about, will not be taken seriously.

In the 21st Century, the numbers of deaths from the vaccine preventable diseases will probably be in the few thousand worldwide. Why?  Because of vaccines.

It is estimated that in the 20th Century over 5.2 billion people died and nearly 1.7 billion people died from infectious diseases, among them : Diphtheria–0.76 million,  Hepatitis B–12.7 million, Measles–96.7 million, Meningitis-21.9 million, Polio–0.13 million,  Smallpox–400 million, Tetanus–37.1 million and Whooping cough–38.1 million deaths.

In Papua New Guinea, recent outbreaks of measles have resulted in a high number of deaths among children. PNG was free from measles for a good number of years as a result of immunization until the outbreaks at the end of 2013 which are still being reported in several provinces. 

The recent measles outbreak is because of inadequate coverage to protect against the virus having been transported into the country from outside and spreading among our unimmunized population, however, less severe than other past outbreaks.

There are still many Papua New Guinean children dying from vaccine preventable diseases like whooping cough, meningitis, pneumonia, and neonatal tetanus and many suffer permanent damage.

Every country in the world vaccinates its children. Many have succeeded in eliminating diseases as a result of vaccination. Prior to polio vaccination many children died from this disease.  In PNG, a good number of adults still suffer from permanent disability resulting from poliomyelitis. But now, PNG, like many other parts of the world, has eradicated polio due to vaccinations.

Vaccination, like all drugs has its benefits and potential side-effects.  The purpose of a vaccine is to induce immunity by causing the recipient’s immune system to react to the vaccine. Sometimes, vaccination causes certain mild side-effects. Local reaction, fever and systemic symptoms are a part of the normal immune response. In addition, some vaccine components (antibiotics) can cause reactions. Pain, swelling and/or redness at the injection site are typical of a local reaction. Up to half of children receiving some vaccines can be expected to have some form of mild local reaction or fever.

These common reactions occur within a day or two of immunization, except for fever and systemic symptoms from measles vaccine that occur from 5–12 days after immunization. Although fever and/or rash occur in 5%–15% of measles vaccines during this time, only around 3% are attributable to vaccine itself, the rest are accounted for as common, coincidental events in childhood.

For our children we want to do what is best for them and one of the best ways to protect our children is to make sure they receive all their vaccinations. All parents are urged to take advice from health professionals on health issues because health policies and practises in PNG are evidenced based and not based on hearsay.

Here are five reasons why we should vaccinate our children:

1. Immunizations can save a child’s life. Because of advances in medical science, your child can be protected against more diseases than ever before. Some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children, have been eliminated completely and others are close to extinction– primarily due to safe and effective vaccines. One example of the great impact that vaccines can have is the elimination of polio.

2. Vaccination is very safe and effective. Vaccines are only given to children after a long and careful review by scientists, doctors, and healthcare professionals. Vaccines will involve some discomfort and may cause pain, redness, or tenderness at the site of injection but this is minimal compared to the pain, discomfort, and trauma of the diseases these vaccines prevent. Serious side effects following vaccination, such as severe allergic reaction, are very rare. The disease-prevention benefits of getting vaccines are much greater than the possible side effects for almost all children.

3. Immunization protects others we care about. Children still get vaccine-preventable diseases, some due to being too young to receive a vaccine to be completely vaccinated. Some people may not be able to receive certain vaccinations due to severe allergies or weakened immune systems from conditions like leukemia.. To help keep them safe, it is important that everyone able to get vaccinated is fully immunized.  This not only protects the family, but also helps prevent the spread of these diseases to friends and loved ones.

4. Immunizations can save family time and money. A child with a vaccine-preventable disease can be denied attendance at schools or child care facilities. Some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged disabilities and can take a financial toll because of lost time at work, medical bills or long-term disability care. In contrast, getting vaccinated against these diseases is a good investment.

5. Immunization protects future generations. Vaccines have reduced and, in some cases, eliminated many diseases that killed or severely disabled people just a few generations ago. For example, smallpox vaccination eradicated that disease worldwide. By vaccinating children against rubella, for example, the risk that pregnant women will pass this virus on to their fetus or newborn has been dramatically decreased, and birth defects associated with that virus no longer are seen in countries using for long time the proper vaccine. If we continue vaccinating now, and vaccinating completely, parents in the future may be able to trust that some diseases of today will no longer be around to harm their children in the future.

Safety of immunization
Based on a review of available evidence the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) concluded that there is no evidence to support the hypothesis that vaccines, as currently used, weaken or harm the immune system.

Immunization and Pregnancy
GACVS has also evaluated the data on the safety of immunization of pregnant women for several inactivated and live attenuated vaccines. There is no evidence of adverse pregnancy outcomes from the vaccination of pregnant women with inactivated virus, bacterial vaccine, or toxoid. Therefore, pregnancy should not preclude women from immunization with these vaccines, if medically indicated.

Media contacts

Noreen Chambers
Communication Specialist
Tel: +675 321 3000


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