Western Cape Government Health and Wellness is calling on all parents and caregivers to vaccinate their children to protect them against diseases that can cause serious harm, such as measles.
As part of nationwide efforts to contain large measles outbreaks, the Western Cape Department of Health will be administering additional booster doses to every child under the age of five (approximately 560,000 of the province’s population) from 6 until 17 February 2023.
Sonia Botha, Western Cape coordinator of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), has encouraged caregivers to ensure that children are protected against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
“Measles is preventable through a safe and effective vaccine, which children can access for free at public health facilities and at a minimal cost from public-private partners. Since unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, parents or caregivers can play a key role to help us prevent measles given the excellent safety record and protection that the measles vaccine offers. Parents or caregivers should consult their doctor if they suspect that their child has measles.”
Even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available, in 2018, there were more than 140 000 measles deaths globally, mostly among children under the age of five, WHO reported.
However, measles vaccinations resulted in a 73% drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2018 worldwide.
Measles is a highly contagious, serious disease caused by a virus. It is caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family and it is normally passed through direct contact and through the air. The virus infects the respiratory tract, then spreads throughout the body.
The measles virus also weakens the immune system and makes a child more vulnerable to other infectious diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea.
Most measles-related deaths are caused by complications associated with the disease. Serious complications are more common in children under the age of 5, or adults over the age of 30.
The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, ear infections, or severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.
WHO recommends that all children diagnosed with measles receive two doses of vitamin A supplements, given 24 hours apart. This treatment restores low vitamin A levels during measles that occur even in well-nourished children and can help prevent eye damage and blindness. Vitamin A supplements have also been shown to reduce the number of measles deaths.
Unvaccinated young children are at highest risk of measles and its complications, including death, according to WHO. WHO further warns that unvaccinated pregnant women are also at risk, as well as any non-immune person (who has not been vaccinated or was vaccinated but did not develop immunity) can become infected.
However, Western Cape Government Health and City of Cape Town clinics offer free vaccinations to protect you. We are committed to ensuring that no child dies from measles. We encourage parents or caregivers to visit a local clinic for support. If you have questions or need to get your child’s immunisation schedule up to date, speak to a healthcare worker.