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Vaccinating your children is one of the most important and consequential decisions you will make in their early life. It is important for parents to be aware of the various vaccinations their child will receive, what they do to prevent disease and the important difference between mandatory and optional vaccinations.
The following will present a detailed guide to the benefits of vaccination and give you the knowledge you need to best make informed decisions about how and when to vaccinate your child. If you have more specific questions regarding your child, please consult a doctor for guidance.
Why Childhood Vaccinations are Important
To understand why vaccinations are important in the first place, you need to understand the concept of immunity. Immunity is the way the body prevents disease, and vaccinations are in place to immunize you against certain diseases.
If your immune system – which is composed of all number of cells, glands, organs, and fluids – does not recognize a foreign germ (known as an antigen), it will send proteins called antibodies out to fight those invasive germs. When the antibodies are able to overpower and effectively prevent the antigen from entering and affecting the body, then immunity begins to develop. But if the antigen is too powerful – as in the case with many diseases that are not just common germs – then the antibodies will not know how to deal with the antigen and will be unable to prevent it from compromising your health.
It is almost always easier to prevent the disease via immunization rather than allowing it to ravage your body and potentially kill you in the process. To immunize you, vaccines introduce the disease into the body in a controlled way. Since the body needs to be exposed to an antigen to know how to fight it, the vaccines introduced these diseases in our body in a state where they are killed or weakened enough to be unable to penetrate the immune system and ravage the body. They are just strong enough to produce the antibodies which will prevent the disease in the future.
Diseases across the globe have been treated and are now commonly preventable and rare thanks to vaccination drives that promoted vaccination during childhood across the globe. Such diseases include – among many others – polio, measles, rubella, rotavirus, mumps, and smallpox.
Are Vaccines Safe?
Vaccines are generally very safe, and most children have nothing to worry about when receiving them. Complications from vaccines are few and far between, and the very small risk of serious problems from vaccines is outweighed by their benefits. While some vaccines have caused side effects, these side effects are typically mild and temporary. Long-term, deleterious health effects of vaccination are not considered to be a concern.
Immunization via vaccination is particularly important for children since the immune system is developing. Since it is easier to prevent disease than treat it, childhood is the best time to prevent diseases that might otherwise ravage a developing immune system. The child is also at the greatest risk of disease during this period from being around other young children as some of these children might not themselves be vaccinated.
Furthermore, vaccines provide the best way to introduce and prevent disease in a controlled way. Not only does vaccination ensure the health of your child, but it ensures the health of the population by making sure that other children are not at risk of contagious diseases as well. Since vaccines are generally very safe, the protection they provide to children outweighs a very small risk of complications.
Certain diseases that were once widespread across the planet are now eliminated or effectively eliminated, putting the risk close to zero, unheard of at any other time in human history. This comes only from individual parents as a collective making the choice to vaccinate their children, and this is why the choice to vaccinate is one of the most important and consequential ones that a parent will make.
When Should Your Kid Be Vaccinated?
In general, your children be vaccinated at a very young age, but the exact recommendations can vary from time to time and depend on the vaccine the child is acquiring. Most children receive their first vaccination very soon after they are born and will receive other vaccinations throughout early childhood. You should consult the most recent international and national guidelines in making your decision.
If you have any doubts, please consult your doctor to determine the best time and schedule for which your child to receive their required vaccinations.
Side Effects of Vaccines
Regardless of age, some vaccines can, on some occasions, cause side effects. These effects are usually mild and temporary – such as fever or soreness – and will go away within a short time. Depending on the vaccine, you should talk to your doctor about specific risks and side effects, as well as and how these effects can be managed or mitigated (if they are indeed possible).
In certain cases, children will experience a serious reaction to their very first vaccination. In this case, you should consult with your doctor to determine the appropriate course of action and the advantages and disadvantages of continuing with the rest of the shorts in the series of that vaccine.
When Your Kid Should Not Be Vaccinated?
It is only in very special situations that a child should not be vaccinated. In general, recommendations not to will depend on the health of the child and whether they have any serious illnesses. Many people worry about complications resulting from vaccines given to children who have a cold, allergy or other medical conditions, but the complications from minor illnesses are few and far between.
While all children should be vaccinated, the following are circumstances in which delaying a vaccination or even missing a vaccination could potentially be merited:
1. Reaction to a Previous Vaccine
If the child’s reaction to a previous vaccine was severe, consult your doctor about what the best course of action is for your child. Allergic reactions in children are very rare but can include hives, breathing problems, and changes in blood pressures, as well as fever, headache, and confusion.
If your child has a fever higher than 38 degrees Celsius, you should talk to your doctor about whether delaying a vaccine is possible.
3. High-Dose Steroid Use
In the case that your child is taking high-dose corticosteroids (which quell immune responses), live-virus vaccinations like MMR and varicella should be avoided until several weeks after the steroids have stopped.
4. Children with Immunodeficiency or In Chemotherapy
Kids with immunodeficiency or undergoing treatment for cancer typically have weakened immune systems and should, therefore, avoid live-virus vaccines.
5. HIV-Positive Children
In general, children who are HIV-positive will have compromised immune systems and should not be given vaccinations. The exception is the live flu vaccine, and sometimes children with high T-cell counts can receive so-called “live-virus vaccines” like MMR, rotavirus, and varicella.
While children with asthma and other lung conditions should always get the flu vaccine, they should typically avoid nasal versions which contain live, weakened viruses that might cause asthma to flare.
7. Egg Allergy
Some vaccines, such as those for the flu and measles virus, are made in chicken eggs. While this can be a complication for children with an egg allergy, it is usually present in such small doses that even those with egg allergies will not react to the vaccine. In many cases, flu shots for children allergic to eggs can be administered in slowly increasing doses.
Please consult your doctor for more specific guidance based on your child’s circumstances.
Which Diseases Will Your Baby Be Immunized Against?
Some of the most common vaccines for kids across the world are provided for diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), polio, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, gastroenteritis, mumps, measles, rubella, pneumonia, meningitis, Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib), chicken pox, tuberculosis and whooping cough (pertussis). In India in particular, further vaccines are introduced for regional diseases such as Japanese encephalitis, of which there have been outbreaks in certain states of India and other parts of Asia.
A bacteria which affects the lining of the respiratory system and can make it difficult to breathe.
Bacteria from soil, dust, and manure which enters the body through the skin and can cause symptoms ranging from jaw cramping and muscle tension to stiffness and difficulty swallowing.
A crippling and often deadly infectious disease which invades a person’s brain and spinal cord, often causing paralysis.
4. Hepatitis A
A highly contagious infectious disease which can affect the liver’s ability to function. Usually comes from contaminated food or water or another infected person.
5. Hepatitis B
A viral infection that attacks the liver.
A contagious virus that will often cause inflammation of the intestines and stomach (known as gastroenteritis).
A highly contagious virus that starts with normal cold symptoms and is followed by a rash that spreads all over the body.
A contagious disease that starts with fever, headache and muscle aches, often leading to tiredness, loss of appetite and swollen salivary glands.
A contagious viral infection that starts with normal symptoms and produces a rash.
An inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.
11. Chicken Pox
A disease often affecting children that produce itchy, red blisters all over the body.
A potentially serious infectious disease mainly affecting the lungs, often transmitted through coughs and sneezes.
13. Whooping Cough (Pertussis)
A highly contagious respiratory disease that causes violent coughing that makes it hard to breathe.
Common Vaccines for Children
In India, the Universal Immunization Program (UIP) is a scheme by the Government which provides for the vaccination of seven different diseases and has since expanded in its coverage and the vaccines it provides for. Under the UIP, and since 1985, the National Immunization Schedule (NIS) has provided a timetable for parents to determine when and how they should vaccinate their children, so-called “routine immunization” (RI). The Government of India frequently collaborates with international bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) on issues related to vaccinations and viral health.
The RI/UIP schedules currently provide for the following vaccines for kids: BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin), DPT (Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus Toxoid), OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine), Hepatitis B, Measles-Lyophilized, TT (Tetanus Toxoid) and Japanese Encephalitis (JE).
Some of the most common vaccines for kids worldwide are:
1. BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) – This vaccine provides protection against Tuberculosis.
2. DPT – This vaccine protects against Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus Toxoid.
3. OPV (Oral Polio Vaccine) – This vaccine provides protection against Polio.
4. Hepatitis A – This vaccine provides protection against Hepatitis A.
5. Hepatitis B – This vaccine provides protection against Hepatitis B.
6. Pneumococcal Conjugate – This vaccine provides protection against Pneumonia and Meningitis.
7. DTaP – This vaccine provides protection against Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis.
8. MMR – This vaccine provides protection against Mumps, Measles, and Rubella.
9. Japanese Encephalitis (JE) – This vaccine provides protection against Japanese Enciphalitis.
10. Varicella – This vaccine provides protection against Chicken Pox.
Things to Remember
When it comes to child immunization, there are many things that are important to remember.
One of the most important aspects is that most vaccinations are given in series and require more than one dose. While you do not need to restart the series if one dose in that series is missed, the immunization should be given as soon as possible in accordance with the schedule. In particular, baby shots and baby vaccinations will need to be done as soon as possible, but attention should be paid to the health of the baby and the timing of the shots.
Furthermore, it is important to note the type of immunity that the vaccine provides, including its effects and duration. To be absolutely clear, make sure to consult your doctor to determine if additional doses in a series will be needed to grant lifetime immunity. Also, check if additional vaccines will be required as supplements to prevent certain diseases and their impacts.
Vaccination is an important and simple way to treat easily-preventable diseases, in effect introducing disease to prevent disease. In India, the RI/UIP scheme is in place from the Government of India is in place to ensure these diseases are accounted for and treated at an early age. While you should be aware of the nature of vaccination, the different types of vaccines and your role as a parent, vaccines are generally very safe and provide innumerable benefits to the health of your child and the other children around them.