Baby Vaccines in Kenya

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Baby Vaccines in Kenya

Baby Vaccines in Kenya

What a joy it is to birth a baby; a little human that brings so much joy to our lives. That first cry is our crown to the long anticipated mummy and daddy title. When we first hold them, we promise to always protect their little soul and this we do!

‘Brace yourself for sleepless nights after the jab’ we’re told. But nothing can stop us from being the most protective parents in the universe. We head on to the clinic, shoulders and head high ready for the baby vaccines. We know they are important.

The question however is, do we really understand what these vaccines are for? Do our babies really need them? And how comes there are Government approved ones(KEPI) and others by the private facilities? And how come we did not get as many vaccines as we are giving our babies today?

Well, let’s find out!

Why vaccinate our babies in the first place?

Vaccines build immunity. Immunity is the ability to fight infections. Each vaccine is geared towards protecting children from specific infections.

In Kenya, The Ministry of Health established The Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunization (KEPI) in 1980 with a deliberate intention to protect children from six vaccine-preventable killer diseases, namely tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and measles through free vaccination. This was in an effort to ensure all children born got to celebrate their 1st birthday. Since the 1980s, other diseases have been added to the list to further protect children from death and disabilities. Because the list keeps growing year on year as need arises, children born today may receive more vaccines than those born 5 years ago. As the list of vaccines continues to grow, child mortality rate from preventable ailments is consequently reducing.  The latest addition is the HPV(Human Papillomavirus) vaccine which was introduced in 2019 to protect girls from HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer or genital watts.

There are many other diseases that pose a threat to our children's health and well being but have not been incorporated in the KEPI schedule. These are available in both public and private medical facilities at a cost higher than KEPI vaccines.

Vaccines at Birth

Vaccine protection actually starts in the delivery room soon after the baby is born and carries on over a 5 year period according to the WHO.

At birth, our little angels only get three vaccines;

i) Hepatitis B- which prevents Hepatitis B Infection that causes liver failure leading to cancer or death.

ii) 1st polio-Polio vaccine is given to prevent crippling in children and is administered orally. It is given twice, at birth and at 6 weeks.

iii) BCG(Bacillus Calmette-Guerin)- This vaccine protects  babies from contracting the deadly Tuberculosis and is administered as an injection on the lower left arm. This injection should leave a scar on the administered area. The scar should be visible in at most 6 weeks. If the scar does not appear, a similar dose of the vaccine should be re-administered. If the scar still does not appear, then the same should be recorded and no other BCG vaccine should be administered.

At 6 weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks

At these ages 4 vaccines are administered;

i) Pentavalent vaccine- This is a five in one vaccine recommended to prevent babies from Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Haemophyllus Influenza Type B thus the penta in its name. This is the injection that introduces you to the real strength of your baby’s lungs and keeps you up at night due to its side effects of pain, fever and discomfort in the little angels. Some parents use paracetamol to calm the baby while others opt to go for the baby friendly vaccine option. The baby friendly pentavalent vaccine is said to have no side effects on the baby but can only be availed at private health institutions at a higher cost. It is administered 3 times at 6 weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks. It is important to note that you cannot mix the KEPI and baby friendly options in the three times. If you chose to use baby friendly then you must use it through the three times and if you chose KEPI the first time you cannot change your mind and opt for baby friendly. Chose wisely!

ii)Pneumococcal Vaccine-This vaccine prevents the baby from contracting pneumococcal disease whose clinical syndrome includes pneumonia, meningitis. It was added to the KEPI schedule in 2011 and is also administered 3 times at 6 weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks.

iii) Rota virus vaccine- This vaccine protects the baby against rota virus which causes severe diarrhea that is a major cause of hospitalization and death among children. It is administered in two oral doses at 6 weeks and at 10 weeks. It was added to the KEPI list in 2014.

iv) 2nd Polio- The second and last dose of Polio is administered at 6 weeks. The vaccine prevents crippling in children and is given orally in form of drops.

At 6 months

After the 14th week vaccinations, a welcome 3 month break commences. At 6 months its time for the parents to resume their super protection mode with a visit to the clinic.

At 6 months the big little baby returns for;

i) Vitamin A-  Vitamin A is administered to babies every 6 months until the age of 5 years to protect them from preventable blindness. It has been on the KEPI schedule since the 1980s.

ii) Influenza Vaccine- This vaccine protects the baby from common causes of respiratory diseases such as flu, coryza(running nose) and common cold. It is administered annually preferably at the same time every year and is injected on the arm. This vaccine is not listed under the KEPI schedule.

At 9, 10 and 12 months

By now the baby is having ‘gugu gaga’ conversations and life has taught them to recognize a needle! As parents we are proud of the journey and look forward to the end of the screams that emerge from the vaccination rooms. Almost there mummys and daddys but first;

i) MMR Vaccine- This combined vaccine prevents babies from measles, mumps and Rubella. Measles is a viral infection without a specific cure and can only be managed to prevent infections. The best way to deal with it is by prevention which is administered through an injection at 9 months. A second dose of the same is given at 18 months. The vaccine is on the KEPI schedule.

ii) Meningococcal Vaccine- This vaccine is given at 10 months to protect babies from Meningitis. Meningitis is a condition that affects delicate membranes of the brain and the spinal cord. It can be very severe leading to disability or death if untreated. Although not listed under KEPI, a lot is being done to incorporate it in the schedule due the increasing cases recorded and the lifelong effects it has on children including blindness. It is however available at a fee in most health institutions.

iii) Oral Cholera, Hepatitis A, Varicella Vaccine. This is a vaccine administered at 12 months to protect the baby from cholera, Hepatitis A and from suffering chicken pox. This vaccine is not listed under the KEPI schedule.

Other Vaccines

Some of the other common vaccines after 12 months include;

i) Typhim Vaccine- This is a vaccine against salmonella that causes typhoid in children. It is administered at 24 months.

ii) HPV- This is a vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus which is known to cause vaginal warts and even cervical cancer. This vaccine should be administered to girls before they are sexually active usually recommended at the age of 9 years. The Kenyan government in 2019 rolled out free injection of the vaccine in a bid to curb the growing cervical cancer epidemic in the country. Sexually active girls/women should go for annual pap smear for early detection and treatment of cervical cancer. Pap smear is the test used to screen cancerous processes in the cervix.

I hope this was helpful and informative.

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