This week is World Immunisation Week (April 23rd to 29th) and the theme for this year is ‘Vaccines work, Do your part’. I remember as a kid constantly staring at the scar on my top lower left arm, I always wondered where it came from. I used to play a lot as a kid and had a couple of dents and scars and most of them I could pinpoint where and how I got them, but this one I’d always had. I thought for some time it was a birthmark but told my friends and they told me they also had them, which raised my curiosity further, what was it? I asked my mum and she told me, “Ulidungwa sindano ukiwa mchanga.” That was worse so I kept wondering why I got injected and why would the mark still be there. Then in upper primary, we were introduced to immunization, which answered all my questions pertaining to that scar. It was a BCG shot administered at birth. It was part of the few vaccines that are meant to be administered to a child to prevent contraction of diseases.
What is immunization? This is the introduction of pathogens that have died or been altered into your bloodstream to ensure the body produces antibodies to fight against them. This ensures the pathogen or virus is imprinted onto the antibodies and they can be able to fight them in future. Once the cells have modified to be able to fight against the virus it makes it easier for the cells to fight them in case of future infection. When you don’t get immunized the cells succumb to the virus making you sick, and it may lead to death in some severe cases. The importance of immunization as a child is the cells are more active making them highly functional in their fight against the pathogens. As you get older the cells are present but not produced as much as they are in infancy and lacking the same protective resistance due to years of fighting other pathogens.
Immunization is recommended as exposure to various pathogens and diseases is higher due to various factors especially in current times. We are exposed to many more people and the risk of spread of disease is higher. The connectivity of the world has also made it possible to travel all over and contraction of a disease can be done easily over borders through carrying the infection or contracting it in your destination. Take the example of the largest Ebola outbreak that happened a few years ago, the spread was easier due to high population and travel across borders. If the vaccine had been developed then and administered to the locals then over 500,000 lives would have been saved. Once the body is triggered and fights the virus and pathogens then it builds a defence system against future attacks.
Children in Kenya are vaccinated against; Tuberculosis, Whooping cough, Polio, Measles, and Diptheria. Let me give you two examples of when I realized the importance of these vaccines. In a primary school is where you frequently hear of cases of Chicken Pox among children, this is similar to Measles and once you are immunized for the one you can’t contract the other. I had a desk mate who got Chicken Pox and for about three days we sat together, played together and hang out together all the time failing to realize how highly infectious this disease was. It’s an airborne disease that can easily be contracted when in contact with an infected. She got treated for it and stayed home for two weeks to recover. In that period two other people from our class caught the disease and never once did I have any sign of a breakout. I later learned that had I not been vaccinated I would have contracted it as well. Picture being constantly around someone with Chicken Pox and not catching the disease when two other people remotely around catch it. That is the value of immunization.
The second instance is when I was slightly older and we took in one of my uncles who had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis. This again is a highly infectious disease and people who refuse medication are sometimes locked up and forced to take it to prevent the spread of the disease. We lived with him for a few months and not a single person contracted it thanks to vaccination. You can imagine how easily a common cold is spread through the house when one person catches it that is how fast TB can be spread, immunizing caters for fighting against infections such as these.
Vaccinations vary based on geographic positioning, age, and diseases. When travelling to areas with a high-risk factor you are recommended to get vaccinated, this sometimes is a policy and it protects not only you but the people around you. Vaccinating is a sure way to prevent contraction of diseases and building a strong defence wall within your immune system. Immunization is not only important to infants but for adults as well. Get immunized against diseases to prevent infection in future. Pregnant women and infants are catered for in government facilities and maternities, these facilities should be fully utilized to not only rid the country of some diseases but also to protect future generations. Immunization like medical check-ups, cancer screenings, and the sort are vital for people to stay healthy.