Dear Powers that be, the current vaccine shortage is gravely worrying.
To be honest, leaving a kid unvaccinated in a world of infectious diseases is like sending a soldier into a nuclear war with a bow and an arrow.
It sounds absurd but here we are. And it is unacceptable. The situation must be treated as an emergency and not with a vague endpoint.
The fact that we have not recorded deaths does not lessen the gravity of the situation. For death is only one outcome; there are also varying degrees of disability, reduced intelligence, loss of potential and of course loss of trust in our health system, to name a few. I am a paediatrician and I speak for the children.
I remember my senior colleagues, years back, telling us about the measles outbreaks they witnessed long ago. Wards full of very sick little children: some developed pneumonia, others became blind, some had brain damage and lower intelligence, and some died. All from measles. Thank God for John Enders and others who worked on the measles vaccine. For a long time, many of us had never even seen a case of measles before until recently.
The polio vaccine had been around long before I started practising medicine, and so I didn’t get to see many acute cases. But any time I see a middle-aged person with a polio-related physical challenge, my heart feels warm towards Salk and Sabin (the people who worked on the polio vaccine) as I know that thanks to them, such physical challenges are not common in younger generations. The effects of a good vaccine appropriately given are amazing.
And then there was rotavirus. I experienced those terrible diarrhoea outbreaks first hand and it was no fun.You would have to pair and even triple patients on the bed as the whole ward would be full. The infants infected would ‘ poo’ themselves sometimes even to death. Every year, in the consulting room you would see 4 shades of the illness.
We had a relatively well infant with diarrhoea who was well enough to go home on ORS. Then there was the infant who was rather stable, but you still needed to keep an eye on him because of the frequency of the diarrhoea. He could easily become very ill.
Then there was one of who had lost all his body fluid and was in shock. With this one, you would have to grab him from his mum and run to the emergency. You probably wouldn’t be able to get a peripheral vein to set a drip because all his vessels would have collapsed. You would need to put a needle into the bone of his leg (intraosseous access) or shave his hair to set a drip on a scalp vein. In the morning after saving their lives, you would see cute infants sitting in bed with a ‘ mohawk/ amle.’…not a fashion statement but a statement of life.
Then there would be the last one. You would open the cloth wrapped round the infant only to see he had the death mask on…sunken eyes staring at nothing…not reacting to light, mouth dry,..already dead. Dead from a preventable disease. Thank God for Dr Bhan and others who worked on the rota vaccine.
These are just a few of the vaccine-preventable diseases and the havoc they wreck. A vaccine teaches the body the way to fight a particular disease and the body remembers it for the future. So when the germ causing the disease comes knocking, the body is already ready: Like a soldier well-prepared for battle since he knows the enemy’s tactics. And the body will totally conquer the germ or worst case scenario, the body will suffer minimal damage. But not as much as if it hadn’t been vaccinated. We were doing great as a country till this shortage hit.
Powers that be, the people who marched during the parades on 6th March were alive and well to march just because someone had vaccinated them years back. But for us, how will posterity judge us? Is the dollar depreciation, Putin or Covid or whatever other excuse people come up with a good enough reason to allow people to be disabled? To allow a generation’s potential to be cut short. What excuse is good enough? Despite the excuses, life and activities in other sectors didn’t grind to a halt.
And if covid 19 has taught me anything, it is this: if it’s important enough to the leaders, Ghana can get it done. Who would have thought you could lock down a country? Who would have thought you could keep churches, mosques and stadia closed? But you did it. You moved heaven and hell because you said, ‘you could bring back a dead economy, but could not bring dead people back to life’ Powers that be, move heaven and hell to get the kids their vaccines NOW not tomorrow. Let us not send soldiers with bows and arrows into a nuclear war. Yours ‘impatiently waiting for vaccines’.