This health awareness week is celebrated every year in the last week of April as per the World Health Organisation’s health campaign calendar – 24 to 30 April in 2021. The purpose of this campaign is to promote the adoption and use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against life-threatening diseases. Immunisation saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognised as one of the world’s most successful health interventions. However, the WHO notes that “there are still nearly 20 million children in the world today who are not getting the vaccines they need, and many miss out on vital vaccines during adolescence, adulthood and into old age.”
The theme for World Immunisation Week this year is ‘Vaccines bring us closer’, and it aims to encourage engagement around immunisations around the world and to “promote the importance of vaccination in bringing people together, and improving the health and wellbeing of everyone, everywhere throughout life.”
As part of the 2021 campaign, WHO, partners and individuals around the world will unite to:
- increase trust and confidence in vaccines to maintain or increase vaccine acceptance.
- increase investment in vaccines, including routine immunisation, to remove barriers to access.
Our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, better than any textbook can explain, how viruses and diseases can keep us apart: from spending time with and hugging our loved ones, doing our work, and from doing the things we love; from going to a festival or restaurant with your friends, enjoying the vibrance of a live sporting event or travelling to experience new countries and cultures. These are things that we often take for granted yet they make up some of the most important moments in all of our lives.
While the world focuses on critical new vaccines to protect the population against COVID-19, it is just as essential that we ensure that existing routine vaccinations are not disregarded or missed. Because of the measures that were taken to keep from being exposed to the COVID-19 virus, many children missed their scheduled vaccinations during the global pandemic, leaving them at risk of serious diseases like measles and polio. Rapidly circulating misinformation around the topic of vaccinations before and since the efforts to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 also exasperate this threat.
In this context, this year’s campaign will aim to build solidarity and trust in vaccines, and appropriately position vaccinations as a public good that saves lives and protects the health of those we love.
Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe?
There is overwhelming scientiﬁc evidence that vaccination is the best defence against serious infections. Contrary to some of the misconceptions, the vaccine will not give you the virus. Instead, it teaches your immune system to recognise the infection if it enters your system and ﬁght it off. The COVID-19 vaccine presents the body with instructions to build immunity and does not alter human cells at all. Vaccines have successfully reduced the morbidity and mortality of infectious diseases such as smallpox, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B, measles, tetanus, whooping cough and pneumococcal conjugate across the world over the last few decades.
Vaccines undergo rigorous trials and a comprehensive approval process by medical regulators to ensure they are safe and effective. All vaccines go through this process to ensure that they are safe. Pharmaceutical companies also hand over all laboratory studies and safety trials to these regulators to validate that the vaccine does in fact work. The vaccines that will be administered to the South African public have been approved by various regulators around the world, including the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), and they are being successfully rolled out in other countries.
The NDoH aims to vaccinate at least 67% (about 40 million people) of the country’s population. Vaccinating enough people would help create population immunity which, in conjunction with mask wearing and maintaining the outlined COVID-19 hygiene practices, will stamp out the disease. Our roll out of the vaccine will take a three-phase approach that begins with the most vulnerable in our population.