Know more about the vaccination debate

We explore the arguments for and against immunisation.

01 September 2004
by Sam Wilson

What's the controversy?

There have been a number of sensational media reports about immunisation or vaccination, particularly around the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) shot, which reports claimed was linked to autism. According to those who administer vaccines, there is a small risk of complications associated with all immunisation.

Consulting pharmacist Dr Natie Finkelstein believes that the immunisation controversy is largely perpetuated by alarmist reporting and a lack of proper education. ‘Immunisation is the most effective way of preventing disease,' he says. ‘Being immunised against a disease doesn't mean you definitely won't get it, just that if you do, the symptoms will be a lot milder. ‘When you are considering the immunisation question, it is easy to think that mumps, for example, is not a big deal for a child, but you must remember that as an adult, mumps can have serious and permanent repercussions,' says Finkelstein. ‘And I don't think any parent would like their child to contract polio. Without immunisation, this kind of risk would still be very real.'

Those who oppose routine immunisation question the efficacy of the process, in that some children still contract the disease immunised against, albeit less severely. They believe that when you consider this, alongside the risk of side effects, it is better to allow your child's immune system to just fight it out on its own.

Are you legally required to immunise your child?

No. However, many schools will be reluctant to accept your child without a full record of immunisation. The other major drawback is that if you have not been immunised, you will have trouble emigrating.

Which vaccines are considered standard in SA?

Most children are routinely immunised against tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, rubella and hepatitis B.

Are there vaccinations that adults should get?

Natie recommends a flu vaccination for those whose immune systems are compromised and those prone to respiratory distress, like the elderly, those with asthma, TB or HIV/AIDS. According to Dr Stephen Toovey, director of the Travel Clinic, if you are going to tropical Africa, Central or South America, you will need a yellow fever vaccination. If you are travelling to Mecca, you will require a meningitis vaccine.

The decision to immunise yourself and your children is a personal one.

To make an informed decision, speak to your health practitioner, or get advice from your Clicks pharmacist. Clicks Pharmacies sell vaccines such as the flu vaccine. A nursing sister is on hand to administer injections. The medicines legislation doesn't permit ClubCard members to earn Points on scheduled medicines, but you'll earn Points on all other items in store.

The national immunisation programme ensures that the basic vaccines are provided free of charge at state institutions. Should you choose to go to a private clinic or your paediatrician, you will have to pay for the vaccines.

TOPV Trivalent Oral Polio vaccine (drops)
DTP Diptheria, Pertussis and Tetanus vaccine DT Diptheria and Tetanus vaccine
Hib Haemophilus influenza B
BCG Bacillus Calmette Guerin (Tuberculosis vaccine)
Hep B Hepatitis B vaccine
MMR Mumps Measles and Rubella

birth - BCG, TOPV
6 weeks - TOPV, DTP / Hib, Hep B
10 weeks - TOPV, DTP / Hib, Hep B
14 weeks - TOPV, DTP / Hib, Hep B
9 months - Measles / MMR
15 months - MMR booster
18 months - TOPV, DTP / Measles
5 years - TOPV, DT