Everything you need to know about the private versus government immunisation programme

Private versus Government Immunisation Programme BabyWombWorld South Africa

Immunisation is one of the topics new parents worry about most. One of the concerns that you may have is how to choose which vaccines to give to your baby, especially as you may have heard about private and government vaccines and perhaps also the private versus government immunisation programme debate.

When the private vs government immunisations debate comes up, we often hear that parents want what is best for their babies, and surely private vaccines that they pay extra for must be better?

They may also not be sure how to choose a clinic for their baby’s immunisations.

This blog aims to relieve some of the confusion around the private versus government immunisation programme

Private versus government immunisation programme

Firstly, what is the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI)?

The South African Department of Health (DOH) uses the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) which protects against “the big six” diseases – polio, tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. Through the years a few more vaccines have been added to this list. Our programme now also covers Haemophilus Influenza type b, Pneumococcal Disease, Hepatitis B, Human Papillomavirus and Rotavirus. All children should receive these vaccines, and schools require proof that it was given before accepting a child.

Vaccines are expensive, and in South Africa, we are blessed with the DOH sponsoring vaccines for children. Although we take this for granted it is not the case in all countries.

Different types of clinics

  1. Government clinics

The EPI vaccines are available for free at government and municipal clinics. The DOH or the municipality also carries the cost of the clinic, including rent, consumables and staff salaries. These clinics often provide services to more clients than they can truly handle, and long queues are common. However, the service is free to ensure that it is accessible for all.

  1. Private clinics

These include pharmacy clinics, hospital baby clinics and clinics run by private nursing sisters at their houses or other facilities.  Clients are charged a consultation fee to cover the clinic’s running costs.

Certain private clinics receive the EPI vaccines from the Department of Health, and parents only pay a consultation fee for the clinic’s service.  Some private clinics do not receive vaccines from the Department of Health, and parents need to pay for these in addition to the consultation fee.

It is worthwhile searching for a clinic that receives government stock as vaccines are very expensive. Sometimes it’s claimed directly from your medical aid, but remember that this is usually paid from your Savings account and may lead to you running out of funds before the year is over.

What are private vaccines?  

There are a few vaccines available on the market that is not included in the EPI. Parents have the option to purchase these vaccines for their children. Additional vaccines are available against Meningococcal Meningitis, Mumps, German measles,  Hepatitis A and Chickenpox.

Apart from the above ‘extra’ vaccines, there are also alternative products available for vaccines on the EPI programme. There may be minor differences, but essentially they do the same thing and parents should never feel that they need to purchase an alternative for an EPI vaccine that they can get for free. Especially clinics who do not receive vaccines from the DOH may choose to offer their clients some of these vaccines.

You should realise that worldwide only a few companies manufacture vaccines. All these are under stringent control and offer safe and effective products. Which company/product we use is simply dependant on which one got the tender to supply the stock to the DOH.

How important are the extra vaccines for babies and children?

Any disease can cause complications, and we most certainly want to prevent children from getting sick. From that viewpoint they are important.

There are a few factors which may influence whether parents choose to give additional vaccines:

  • Firstly, whether the family can afford it.
  • A child staying at home is less exposed than a little one in daycare, and parents may choose to only give these vaccines when he/she is slightly older.
  • Certain medical conditions make a child more vulnerable to disease and definitely warrant extra protection.
  • Some diseases are more serious than others, and parents may use this measure to decide what they want to immunise against. Meningococcal meningitis, for example, progresses rapidly and can very easily cause brain damage and death.

READ MORE: What to do when your baby has a fever

It is reckoned that apart from the discovery of antibiotics, no other health initiative has played such a big role in global health as immunisation. With the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic we are reminded again of what a disease can do if we have no way to prevent it. Certain diseases like Smallpox has been eradicated completely, while others like Polio is on the verge of eradication. Talk to your clinic sister of doctor for more guidance on how to best protect your baby’s health and wellbeing.

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Christine Klynhans is a midwife and lactation consultant with a firm believe that gentle parenting can change the world. She has worked in midwifery since competing her B.Cur nursing degree in 2004, and has a special passion for education and for writing. She currently works in a well-baby clinic and give antenatal classes and breastfeeding support. She enjoys working with parents of babies and toddlers, aiming to help them find gentle solutions to their parenting problems and assisting them in incorporating healthy habits and natural health alternatives into their daily lives.