What is the difference between Private and Public Vaccines?

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Vaccines have proven to be effective against many common diseases that plagued people’s lives many years ago. We have been able to eradicate most of the diseases throughout the human population which is a great achievement in our lifetime which translates to great news for parents and kids alike. This means the chances of babies living a healthy life into their adulthood is greater today than ever! Therefore the argument is not about getting a vaccine or not as there is countless evidence for the benefits of it and no evidence what so ever on it causing autism. Who would you believe? The army of specialized scientists who back the vaccines or the anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy?

The discussion today is about the different types of vaccine schedules that are available in South Africa. The main ones are the public (government subsidized) vaccines and the ones that are privately procured and sold directly to us. I wanted to check if there’s truly a difference since there’s quite a difference in the how expensive they are. Most people in South Africa are quick to pick private because it’s simply private. The basis of this lies in our mistrust of our government. Private vaccines are sold because they are apparently “better quality”.

I consulted with my long time buddy, Mina Demian, who has a journalism background in good ol’ fact checking. He currently runs a website called “Digging in South Africa“, a website dedicated to investigative reporting and resources for the public.

This is what he had to say:

Both government and private offer eight vaccines from the list of routine immunisation recommendations. How do you do start to answer the question? From the vaccinations offered and who (government and private, here) offers what.

The World Health Organization (WHO) compiles key information on routine immunisation recommendations. These recommendations are based on position papers, published in the health organisation’s Weekly Epidemiological Record. The recommendations are broken down into two types. The first is a list of 10 vaccines for all age groups and populations. The second are supplementary lists that are tailored for specific population characteristics, like risk for polio.

The vaccination schedule, published by Amayeza, an online and independent resource for medicine information, shows what the private sector and government offers. However, the schedule is based on the 2009 schedule for the Department of Health’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI). Using the Amayeza information for the private sector and looking at the 2010 (last known update) government immunisation programme, the following table summarises what’s on offer from both:

vaccine code vaccine for on govt schedule? on private schedule?
BCG tuberculosis yes yes
DTP diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus yes yes
HBV hep B yes yes
HiB haemophilus influenza type b (causes mennigitis, pneumonia) yes yes
HPV papillomavirus (cause cervical cancer, genital warts) no no
IPV Polio yes no
MMR Measles, rubella only offers measles yes
OPV Polio yes yes
PCV pneumococcal yes yes
RV rotavirus (causes severe diahorrea) yes yes

Further remarks

  • Government offers a vaccination for tetanus that is not on the health organisation’s schedules.
  • Private sector offers three vaccinations on the health organisation’s supplementary lists – Meningococcal (MCV), Varicella for chicken pox (VCV), and hepatitis A.
  • Since April 2009 (page 6), government has been offering the pentavalent vaccine, a “five-in-one” vaccine that protects children from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib). From comparing the schedules with and without this vaccine, it wasn’t possible to see any discernable difference.

‘We offer everything on WHO list’

Spokesman for Department of Health, Joe Maila, disagreed with the findings above and insisted,”the fact is that we actually provide 11 vaccines in this country.” When asked to see the source of this claim, no response was received. It also wasn’t possible to find a more recent version of the government immunisation schedule.

There you have it! The conclusion: Stick to public vaccines and only consider private if the public vaccines are out of stock.




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