The majority of medical practitioners and parents agree that vaccination can cause adverse reactions in a small number of people, but the medical community accepts that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. Parents are also made aware of these risks before vaccinating their children. Parents are concerned about the harmful effects of the vaccines, as some contain viral specimens, and they often fear the complicated chemical names of the ingredients. Neil Cameron, former director of the Communicable Disease Control Centre of the national Department of Health, explained in an article published in the


Mail and Guardian in 2005 titled “The great vaccination debate” that, “Only a small part of a virus is used to make a vaccine. This is either killed or weakened – so as not to [cause] disease – and turned into an antigen. Antigens stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies.”


Another concern cited by parents is the misconception that vaccinations have a link to autism, specifically the MMR (mumps, measles, and rubella) vaccine. A report published in The Lancet, a UK medical journal, in 1998 described cases of eight children who developed autistic characteristics shortly after getting their first MMR dose. This research was found to be fraudulent. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done by the time the article was retracted and vaccine rates in the UK dropped sharply, which resulted in many deaths, especially from measles. Since the release of the discredited study extensive research has gone into the link between autism and vaccines, and no link has been found by any of them.


In 2012 the Department of Health claimed that 96% of South African children had received all necessary vaccinations. In contrast, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN children’s agency (Unicef) estimated that only 64% of South African children had received the necessary vaccines. A 2012 article by Africa Check titled “Flawed data undermines SA claims on vaccination coverage” included the opinion of Wits statistical expert Alex van den Heever, who said, “No verifiable claim can be made about immunisation rates in SA. Essentially, no-one knows.”


Unvaccinated children can put an entire population at risk, especially the elderly, ill, or pregnant. Aside from clean water, vaccinations are the most cost effective way to improve a population’s health and prevent disease.


Photo: Lana Mathews

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