Message from the President
Prof Manoranjenni (Mano) Chetty – President
A Focus on National Pharmacy Month
As pharmacists and healthcare professionals in the 21st century, we are extremely fortunate to have ready access to powerful ‘ammunition’ that can be used to prevent many deadly infectious diseases. The theme of this year’s pharmacy month, Don’t wait – vaccinate! should assist pharmacists in focusing on educating patients on the optimal use of available vaccines for the benefit of families and communities.
Medical science has progressed significantly since the smallpox vaccine was first ‘tested’ in 1796. Prior to the introduction of the smallpox vaccine, two in three people who contracted smallpox died, and those who survived were severely scarred and disfigured.
Edward Jenner, an English country doctor, was interested in reports that local milkmaids who had been infected with cowpox (an infection from cows that caused blisters and fevers without causing the harmful effects of smallpox) did not catch smallpox. In May 1796 Jenner decided to perform an experiment to test his theory that the cowpox provided protection against smallpox. His subject was an 8-year-old boy named James Phepps.
Jenner removed fluid from the blisters of a milkmaid who had cowpox and scratched it into the skin of James. A small blister appeared at the site but James did not experience cowpox. About six weeks later Jenner introduced the smallpox organism into James. James did not develop smallpox, indicating to Jenner that the cowpox ‘vaccine’ had prevented the smallpox disease.
Although such a ‘clinical trial’ would not be permitted today, Edward Jenner’s discovery marked a turning point in the prevention of infectious diseases. The name vaccine originates from the Latin word vacca, which means cow, a fitting name given that the first vaccine originated from a cow.
In the 19th and 20th centuries scientists, following Jenner’s model, developed new vaccines to fight numerous other deadly diseases such as whooping cough, measles, polio, tetanus, yellow fever, typhus, and hepatitis B, among many others. With persistent vaccinations, smallpox infections were declared extinct globally by 1980.
With the large number of vaccines currently available, similar opportunities exist to eradicate other deadly diseases. As pharmacists, we have an important role to play in the national programmes aimed at promoting the use of vaccines as well as ensuring adequate conditions for transport, supply and storage of these products. Numerous opportunities exist for pharmacists to educate communities on the benefits of immunisations.
Routine National Immunisation Programmes
National health departments worldwide have implemented routine vaccination programmes for specific diseases such as measles, poliomyelitis, neonatal tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis, pneumococcal disease and rotavirus. As expected, the range of essential vaccines varies with each country.
The National Department of Health in South Africa has outlined the goals, objectives and other details of the national immunisation programmes in the Vaccinators Manual. The goals relating to the eradication of diseases such as measles, polio and neonatal tetanus are achievable, provided that all healthcare workers contribute to the achievement thereof. Patient education on the importance of immunising children, advice on possible adverse reactions and reminders about the ages at which children should receive booster doses are just a few areas in which our profession can play an active role.
The pharmacy is a usual stop for people wishing to travel abroad or within other regions of Africa. Advice on which vaccinations to take and details of clinics that vaccinate travellers in those areas could prevent an exciting holiday in a foreign country from turning into the nightmare of contracting a deadly disease such as yellow fever, typhoid fever, tick borne encephalitis, to name a few.
Immunisation against an infection such as Haemophilus influenzae type B has been shown to prevent morbidity and mortality associated with the infection, especially in vulnerable populations such as the aged and very young children. Advice from pharmacists on who should have such vaccines would be very beneficial to communities.
Other specialised vaccinations
The human papilloma virus vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer, is usually given to girls between 12 and 13 years of age, with a second dose 6–24 months later. A vaccination against shingles is recommended for older patients. The vaccination that offers protection against meningococcal disease is important in some countries. Family doctors of predisposed individuals may appreciate advice on such vaccines.
As citizens of the African continent, we would consider it a great scientific breakthrough if vaccines against diseases such as HIV and malaria were developed and introduced for routine use. While scientists are hopeful, this dream for routine vaccination against these diseases is probably not achievable within the next few years.
In conclusion, I would like to urge all pharmacists to use the opportunity of National Pharmacy Month to focus on reducing the incidence and burden of diseases that can be prevented by the adequate use of available vaccines.