We are incredibly fortunate to live in a part of the world where vaccination programmes are not only offered to our children, they are actively encouraged. Vaccines are extremely effective at preventing some truly devastating diseases. They have been so effective that most of us are lucky enough to never have seen some of these diseases first hand. This can make it easy for people to forget that they remain a real threat if we don’t take up the vaccines on offer.
What is a vaccine?
A vaccine is used to improve immunity against a particular disease. It contains an agent that resembles or is often made from a weakened or killed form of the disease-causing microorganism. This agent is identified by the immune system once it enters the body, and the body mounts an immune response.
This stimulates the body’s immune-system to recognise the agent as foreign, destroy it and “remember” it. The immune-system can more easily recognise these microorganisms and immediately produce the antibodies to destroy any that it later encounters.
Why are they important?
Immunisation prevents illness, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases. The aim of vaccination is to decrease the spread of disease and ultimately eliminate the infection. Smallpox has been completely eradicated due to a successful vaccination programme!
The WHO have reported that global vaccination coverage remains at 85%, with no significant changes over the past few years. However, it is estimated that an additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global immunisation coverage improves.
What informs parents’ decision making about child vaccinations?
There are several reasons that lead to parents’ refusal, delay or hesitancy towards vaccination. These can include someone’s religious, personal and philosophical beliefs or a desire for additional information.
Much of the anxiety about vaccines is based on myths and misinformation. The following points aim to tackle some of these concerns and debunk the myths:
- “Getting several vaccines at once can overwhelm the immune system” – When a child is born, they are exposed to trillions of bacteria, containing thousands of immunological components. A scrape on your child’s knee is more of a challenge to the immune system than all vaccines combined. Vaccines aim to build up the immune system, rather than the other way around.
- “It is better to spread out vaccinations or delay the less-important ones” – Vaccination programmes are tested and safe and designed to protect your child at the earliest age. Vaccines like the 6 in 1 will ensure that children can mount an immune response to all of them and be protected in a short space of time.
- “Vaccines contain harmful toxins and do more harm than good” – Vaccines used to contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative. Even though studies have shown this to be safe, it has been removed from all childhood vaccines. While severe allergic or adverse reactions to vaccines are possible, these are rarer and less dangerous than the conditions the vaccines are protecting against.
What is MMR vaccine?
The MMR vaccine is a combined vaccine which protects against 3 separate diseases – measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). These diseases are highly infectious and can cause serious complications that are potentially fatal.
Complications can include meningitis, encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and deafness. Rubella can cause serious complications in pregnancy, which could lead to miscarriage or severe congenital abnormalities.
In 1998, a public controversy began when Lancet released a since retracted paper for a dramatic study which claimed to link the MMR vaccine to Autism. This led to parents’ distrust in vaccinations and a massive increase in refusals, which ultimately resulted in many deaths.
It has since been found that Dr. Andrew Wakefield had fabricated his findings and the entire study was completely invalid. Long term studies and the analysis of many trials, covering almost 15 million children, found no link to Autism in any case. Dr. Wakefield has since been struck off as a doctor in the UK.
The MMR vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective. If 90% of children are immune, this can stop the diseases from spreading. If 95% of children are immune, it is possible to eliminate measles, mumps and rubella altogether.
What are the possible side effects of vaccines?
During the time when the body is mounting an immune response to the vaccine, the person could experience fever and general aches and pains. These are caused by the immune system developing antibodies and not caused by the disease itself. These symptoms are generally mild and can last a few days or may not be noticed at all.
Other very rare side effects are possible, but the way vaccines are licensed means that they have to have a much cleaner safety profile compared with other medicines. This is because they are used for healthy people and children so the benefits to the individual are less apparent, unlike most medicines, which are given to treat illness. Therefore the risks need to be quite minimal in order for the benefit-risk ratio to be positive.
What is the best timing for vaccines?
If you or your child have an illness (such as a bad cold) when your vaccines are given they may not work. This is because the immune system will identify the actual virus infection as the real threat and may not mount a sufficient response to the vaccine. Therefore the advice is to delay the vaccine if there is any illness. However, the longer the vaccine is delayed the more risk there is of coming into contact with the actual disease before being protected.
For these reasons, we recommend taking up the vaccines at the earliest opportunity and then call to check if you need to reschedule if there is any illness on the day.
Combined vaccines have been developed as we know that the body can mount an immune response to multiple agents if exposed at exactly the same time, whereas if we give vaccines individually we need to wait for a reasonable length of time for the immune system to be ready for the next one. For example, the “6 in 1” vaccine is now offered to children to protects us from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (“whooping cough”), polio, Hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenza type B. These combined vaccines reduce the risk of coming into contact with the infection before we are properly protected.
Travel vaccines should be administered as far as reasonable prior to travel, to allow any mild side effects to settle and to ensure the body has mounted a full response so you are protected prior to travelling.
What vaccinations do we offer at Pinches Medical and Wellbeing?
At Pinches, we offer common childhood vaccinations, including the following: Meningitis B & ACWY, Hepatitis A & B, 6 in 1, HPV, pneumococcal, chicken pox and influenza.
In light of the recent cervical cancer awareness week, there is a current drive nationally to increase the number of cervical smears and the uptake of the HPV vaccination (HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer).
If you have any concerns about travel vaccines for your children please book an appointment with our specialist travel team.
We offer all individual vaccines for those who choose this option and if there is a vaccine or inoculation that is not listed on our website, please enquire for availability.
We are dedicated to providing high-quality advice and service. We are confident in the safety profiles of the vaccines that we offer and strongly support their use.