Vaccinations prevent disease and when taken by the majority of the population stop diseases from spreading altogether. However, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA estimate that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalisations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years, people are choosing not to vaccinate their children against preventable diseases as a result of unfounded campaigns that are circulating the internet. Here is what you need to know.
Immunisation can protect people against harmful infections, which can cause illness and, sometimes, serious complications, including death. The way immunisation works is by using the body’s natural defense mechanism – the immune response – to build resistance to specific infections.
HOW IT WORKS
When a person is vaccinated, their body produces an immune response in the same way their body would after exposure to a disease, but without the person suffering any symptoms of the disease. When a person comes in contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will respond fast enough to prevent the person developing the disease.
Vaccines contain either:
- a very small dose of a live, but weakened form of a virus;
- a very small dose of killed bacteria or virus or small parts of bacteria; or
- a small dose of a modified toxin produced by bacteria.
These will not harm the body and it is much safer to get the immunity from a vaccine rather than from infection.
WHY SO MANY WHEN KIDS ARE SO YOUNG?
A number of immunisations are required in the first few years of a child’s life to protect the child against the most serious infections of childhood. The immune system in young children does not work as well as the immune system in older children and adults, because it is still immature. Therefore more doses of vaccine are needed. In the first months of life, a baby is protected from most infectious diseases by antibodies from her or his mother, which are transferred to the baby during pregnancy. When these antibodies wear off, the baby is at risk of serious infections and so the first immunisations are given before these antibodies have gone.
Another reason why children get many immunisations is that new vaccines against serious infections continue to be developed. The number of injections is reduced by the use of combination vaccines, where several vaccines are combined into one shot.
Common side effects of immunisation are redness and soreness at the site of injection and mild fever. While these symptoms may concern the parent and upset the child at the time, the benefit of immunisation is protection from the disease. More serious reactions to immunisation are very rare.
Paracetamol can be used to help ease the fever and soreness, but care needs to be taken to follow the dosage instructions. Other side effects are very rare but if they do occur, a doctor should be consulted immediately
WHEN IS IT SAFE?
Some parents do not take their child for immunisation for various reasons. It is important that delay is only in specific circumstances. One does not have to avoid or delay immunisation due to:
- a minor infection without a fever such as a cough or cold
- a family history of adverse reactions following immunisations
- a previous history of diseases such as whooping cough, measles, rubella or mumps infection
- premature birth
- stable neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy
- contact with infectious disease
- asthma, hay fever, eczema or ‘snuffles’
- treatment with antibiotics or locally acting steroids
- the child’s mother is pregnant
- the child is being breastfed
- history of jaundice after birth
- the child is under a certain weight
- the child is over the immunisation age recommended in schedule
- ‘replacement’ corticsteriods
- a history of allergy
- a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
- a personal or family history of autistic spectrum disorders
- recent or imminent surgery (obviously here one had better plan ahead if possible)
Remember that immunisation is the safest and most effective way of giving protection against infectious diseases. After immunisation, your child is far less likely to catch the disease if there are cases in the community. The benefit of protection against the disease far outweighs the very small risks of immunisation. If enough people in the community are immunised, the infection can no longer be spread from person to person and the disease dies out altogether. This is how smallpox was eliminated from the world, and polio has disappeared from many countries.
Visit www.gov.mt for the national immunisation schedule.
© 2017 – VIDA Magazine – Charmaine Gauci