Parents urged to get children vaccinated against measles

Sister Jacqueline Rossouw administers a measles vaccine at the Grassy Park clinic. The Western Cape Health Department aims to vaccinate 95% of children under the age of 15 against measles. Picture: Supplied

The provincial Department of Health has joined a national vaccination campaign against an outbreak of measles in other parts of the country by offering extra booster shots to children under 15, until the end of March.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases, a measles outbreak is classified as three or more confirmed laboratory measles cases reported within 30 days of the onset of the disease, in a district. The onset of symptoms takes 10 to 14 days. Early symptoms include a fever and a red rash that isn’t painful or itchy. Children may also have a cough and red eyes.

The current outbreak started in October and has affected five out of nine provinces: Gauteng, Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

National Health Laboratory Service epidemiologist Dr Morubula Manamela told the Echo that measles was not spreading fast in the Western Cape, but the numbers were rising in the affected provinces and were still a cause for concern.

“Measles infection is known to be endemic in South Africa. As long as measles is circulating in the country, we should vaccinate children with the measles vaccine to protect them against measles infection.”

So far, eight measles cases have been reported in the Western Cape for the year, but they do not meet the criteria for declaring an outbreak as they are not linked, according to mayoral committee member for community services and health Patricia van der Ross.

The Western Cape health department aimed to have 95% of children in the province immunised against measles, she said.

“Low coverage of measles vaccination increases the risk of transmission of the virus and outbreaks. The measles vaccine is excellent at preventing measles. However, due to the infectious nature of the virus, a high vaccination coverage (92-95%) is required to prevent the spread within a population.”

About 80% of children in the province had received two doses of the measles vaccine, she said.

“To be protected against measles, two doses of the measles vaccine are required to ensure sufficient immunity. The first dose provides 93% protection against measles infection while receiving a second boosts this to 97%.”

The provincial health department runs a vaccination drive in public schools as well as at crèches and day-care centres, and parents must sign a consent form to have their children vaccinated. Parents can also take their children to their closest clinic to get them vaccinated.

The booster shots are available at clinics across the city including Fish Hoek, Masiphumelele, Muizenberg and Ocean View clinics as well as the Simon’s Town satellite clinic and Red Hill mobile clinic.

Just over 100 doses have been given at the Fish Hoek clinic in the past two weeks, according to community care worker Kulunga Mkundlu.

“We have received a great turnout for the booster shots, and I encourage the community to continue coming in,” she said.