As a specialist in child, youth and school health, Dr Lesley Bamford knows the vital importance of vaccines in ensuring children are kept safe from potentially fatal or debilitating disease when they are young … and the Covid vaccines are not different.
Bamford, an acting chief director in the national department of health, said these childhood vaccines save two to three million lives annually around the world. She said South Africa had a long history of running childhood immunisation programmes.
“This programme, which vaccinates more than 80% of children, protects them from a wide range of vaccine-preventable diseases and it’s estimated approximately two to three million lives are saved worldwide every year through immunisation,” she said.
The only difference with Covid vaccines is they were initially intended for adults. “The difference here is adults are eligible for the vaccine, but the same principles apply and we have solid evidence that people who vaccinate against Covid are protected from becoming infected with the virus,” said Bamford.
“The vaccines are not 100% accurate, so some people who are vaccinated will get infected, but, if so, the disease is usually milder.”
She urged people who are vaccinated to report any adverse events if they experienced any.
“All of the adverse events are looked at closely and investigated by our panel of experts, the national immunisation safety expert community, which is a community of independent experts,” she said.
“We have administered about 60 million vaccines and there will be people who develop serious conditions and must report these at a health centre or call the national call centre line.”
Bamford said if ever there was a relationship in terms of time between the vaccination and someone passing away, the experts investigated and looked carefully at such cases.
“To date, all the deaths that were possibly linked in time with Covid vaccinations have been investigated and the community concluded that none of those deaths are as a result of the vaccine. We take adverse events seriously because we want the public to have confidence in the vaccine,” said Bamford.
“The vaccines are known to be extremely safe; they have been tested and gone through clinical trials, which check if vaccines are safe and progress to additional clinical trials that test the vaccine in a larger number of people while looking at safety and if they are effective.
“There are side effects and they can be unpleasant – some people have muscle aches and fevers which is between 24 and 48 hours,” she said.
“The science and the evidence-based around the disease itself is still evolving and some of the issues related to what will happen in the future are also still evolving.”
Bamford said it was likely that in the future people will require booster doses – “and whether that will be yearly or less often than that is currently not clear but experts are looking at the evidence from clinical trials and advising what the appropriate schedule for vaccinations would be”.