Is there a need to get my child vaccinated?

January 18, 2013

SINGAPORE – Vaccines have reduced the number of deaths and disabilities caused by diseases that were at one time considered incurable, let alone preventable.

Even today, vaccine-preventable diseases still account for 1.5 million deaths worldwide. With vaccination, these unnecessary deaths could have been avoided, yet many parents still harbour doubts about whether their children should be vaccinated.

Their worries include the possibility that their children could have adverse reactions, side effects, or even fall sick because of the vaccine.

There are many controversies surrounding vaccines, with many fanciful claims to confuse parents.

With the millions of doses already given worldwide, vaccines represent a safe and effective means to protect your child from infectious diseases, and even, some cancers (eg hepatitis B, liver cancer, HPV and cervical cancer).

Young children are especially vulnerable as they have an immature immune system and are at higher risk of suffering complications if they are infected by diseases. It is thus much better to prevent these diseases than to regret the consequences that could follow.

How vaccines work

When your child is exposed to a disease, her immune system will try to defend her body against it. If the body successfully defends against the disease, this results in immunity to future infections of the same disease, due to activation of memory cells.

This happens because her body produces antibodies that target that specific disease, which are available the next time your child encounters the same disease again; the antibodies will either prevent the disease, or reduce the severity of the disease.

Vaccines work in a similar way, but with an added bonus; instead of having to suffer through the course of a natural infection and risk its complications, a vaccine allows your child’s body to achieve immunity against a specific disease without actually experiencing it.

Benefits of vaccination

Vaccination has been proven to successfully reduce, and even, eliminate diseases. Not only does vaccination prevent the recipient from becoming infected, it also protects the people who come into contact with the vaccinated person.

This effect is also known as the “herd effect”, whereby people who are not vaccinated against a particular disease are sheltered from it by virtue of being surrounded by people who have been vaccinated.

When the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) was introduced in the US, other than finding a reduction of more than 90 per cent of invasive disease among the recipients, a 34 per cent reduction in disease was found among the aged who did not receive the vaccine.

Vaccination pre-empts the mental and physical trauma of suffering a disease and enduring its complications. It is crucial that you take vaccination seriously and ensure your child receives his/her vaccines according to the National Immunisation Programme (NIP), as well as other recommended vaccines at the appropriate ages.

Thanks to vaccines, diseases that were previously rampant have been eradicated or reduced. These include:

Smallpox: Completely eradicated worldwide in 1979.

Polio: In 1978, 120 cases were recorded in the country, but by 1992, the figure dropped to only four cases that were “imported” from other countries. There have been no cases since 2010 in Malaysia.

Diphtheria: In 1976, 250 cases were recorded, but by 2007, there were no cases. There were a few diphtheria cases in the 1980s among children in religious communities that rejected vaccination.

Pertussis: The number of cases from 1975 to 2008 dropped by over 90 per cent. However, waning immunity and the need for adult pertussis vaccination has led to its reappearance. The US declared a pertussis epidemic on April 3, 2012, and it was their nation’s worst case of pertussis in half a century.

Datuk Dr Zulkifli Ismail is a consultant paediatrician and paediatric cardiologist. This article is courtesy of Positive Parenting Programme by the Malaysian Paediatric Association, supported by an educational grant from Sanofi Pasteur.

The opinions expressed in the article are the views of the author. For further information, please visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice.

Source: The Star/Asia News Network

Category: Wellness and Complementary Therapies

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