Why Vaccines Are Important For Your Child's Immunisation
Confused whether to vaccinate your child or not? Vaccination shots may hurt a little, but the diseases they can prevent are a lot worse. Some, even life-threatening. Find out more.
By Team ParentCircle • 11 min read
Immunisation shots, or vaccinations, are essential to protect against serious diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, polio, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). These shots are important for children to protect them from these life-threatening diseases.
Your immune system helps your body fight germs by producing substances to combat them. Once it does, the immune system ‘remembers’ the germ and can fight it again. Vaccines contain germs that have been killed or weakened. When given to a healthy person, the vaccine triggers the immune system to respond and thus builds immunity.
Before vaccines, people became immune only by actually getting the disease and surviving it. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH), Maryland, USA, immunisations are an easier and less risky way to become immune.
The Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, highly recommends that infants and children get vaccinated to guard against preventable, harmful diseases.
Here is some information on the recommended vaccines for children and the diseases they combat:
- BCG: Tuberculosis
- Hepatitis B (HepB): Hepatitis B virus – a life-threatening liver infection
- Poliovirus: Polio virus – highly contagious viral infection that can cause paralysis in children
- DTP: Diphtheria, Pertussis (Whooping Cough) and Tetanus
- Tdap: Diphtheria, Whooping Cough, Tetanus (for pregnant women and older children)
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) conjugate: Meningitis and acute respiratory infections
- Pneumococcal conjugate: Pneumonia, Meningitis, Otitis media, Sinusitis and Bronchitis
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide: Pneumococcal disease caused by bacteria – ear, lung, blood infection and meningitis
- Rotavirus: Acute gastroenteritis – severe diarrhoea and vomiting, among infants and children
- MMR: Measles, Mumps and Rubella
- Varicella: Chickenpox
- Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A virus – causes liver disease and inflammation
- Influenza: Viral flu
- HPV: Cancer-causing Infections – mouth cancer, cervical cancer (women), penile cancer (men)
- Meningococcal: Illnesses caused by bacteria – blood infection, infections of the brain and spinal cord
- Japanese encephalitis: Viral diseases spread through mosquito bites – dengue, yellow fever and West Nile viruses
- Rabies: An infectious viral disease caused by animal bites; can lead to death if untreated
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
While it is widely recognised the world over that vaccinations protect one against certain viral and bacterial diseases, the world of vaccinations is often rocked by controversies. This tends to leave the parenting community confused.
Dr Meena Thiagarajan, Paediatric Neonatologist, Apollo Hospitals, answers a few frequently asked questions and breaks some common myths on vaccinations.
Is vaccination mandatory? What happens when my child does not get vaccinated?
Vaccine-preventable diseases are among the five major causes of high mortality and morbidity rate in children under five years. Hence, it is recommended to get your child vaccinated to prevent these diseases. However, the final decision lies with the parents.
The Rotavirus vaccine has been very effective in bringing down diarrhoeal diseases. Pneumonia has come down with vaccination as well. If an expectant mother is diagnosed as rubella negative and she acquires the disease during the first trimester, the baby has a high chance of being born with cardiac defects, deafness, blindness or mental retardation. Hence, routine vaccines from the time of pregnancy need to be taken as per schedule.
Are vaccines safe to administer when my child is unwell?
A mild cold is okay. If your child has a fever or a previous allergic reaction to a vaccine, it is advisable not to administer the vaccine. If your child has a stomach infection, then oral vaccines like the rotavirus vaccine should not be administered. Talk to your doctor for further advice.
Does vaccination make my child’s immune system weak?
No, it does not. On the contrary, it increases the strength of the immune system to fight the disease.
Are there any short-term/long-term side effects of vaccination? If yes, what are the possibilities of my child facing such adverse reactions?
The reactions caused by vaccination can be classified into three – local, systemic and allergic. Local reaction to a vaccine is common. It includes pain, redness and swelling at the site of administration of injection. This sometimes increases with subsequent vaccines. It is usually recommended to wait for 15 minutes at the doctor’s clinic post the vaccination. If local reactions occur, they will be treated without delay.
Systemic reaction to a vaccine is fever. This decreases with age and subsequent vaccines. Allergic reaction to a vaccine can be mild or severe. Please consult your doctor in case of such reactions. If your child is allergic to eggs then you should inform that to your doctor, so that the child may not be given certain vaccines.
What can I do to reduce the reactions? Can I give my child a painkiller?
An ice pack can be applied post vaccination on the injected area. Paracetamol can be given to your child under the guidance of your paediatrician.
If my child does not get vaccinated as per the schedule, can she get vaccinated at a later stage?
Yes, there is a catch-up schedule recommended by the Indian Academy of Pediatrics (IAP). If you are following the catch-up schedule, ensure that vaccines are administered individually. Certain vaccines should not be given together on the same day. For example, BCG and MMR vaccines cannot be administered on the same day. Ensure there is a gap of four weeks between vaccines.
What are the differences between primary vaccines, booster doses and combination vaccines?
Primary vaccines trigger the immune system to protect the body against the disease. The effect of a primary vaccine wanes with time and hence a booster vaccine is recommended.
Booster vaccines are given to recharge the immune memory. If your child gets chickenpox at a later stage despite taking the primary vaccine, it is likely that the booster vaccine wasn’t administered.
Combination vaccines mean combining a few types of vaccines together and giving it in one shot. The compliance in such cases is better. If the vaccines are broken down as individual ones, it means that there are too many shots for the child. This could result in frequent visits for vaccine injections and likely to be traumatic for your child and you. Combination vaccines are hence an advantage. DTP is a combination vaccine given to children to prevent diphtheria, pertussis (Whooping Cough) and tetanus.
Isn’t natural immunity better than immunisation?
Yes, natural immunity is present and works to a large extent but healthcare professionals believe in vaccination since prevention is always better than cure. It speaks for the nation at large. The burden of the disease on the nation reduces considerably with vaccination.
What is the difference between MMR and MR vaccine? Are both necessary for my child?
The MMR vaccine is given to children (Nine months and above) to prevent measles, mumps and rubella. The MR vaccine is a recent additive vaccine that is given to strengthen the prevention of measles and rubella.
Measles is a life-threatening disease and rubella is a severe, contagious viral disease which causes birth defects. While the debate of whether children need the MR vaccine continues, health service providers insist on children receiving the vaccine as an important preventive measure.
What is Community/Herd Immunity? Is it for real?
Yes, ‘Herd Immunity’ exists. It is when vaccination is done for a large group for certain diseases. Polio is a good example. If a majority of the child population is vaccinated, then the children who are not vaccinated also benefit. The resistance towards the disease is high.
Who do I approach for reliable information on vaccinations?
Always talk to your family doctor or paediatrician for authentic information on vaccinations.
India is a vast country with a wide geographical terrain and nature. There are chances to contract several diseases. If the people of the nation follow a consistent immunisation schedule like the National Immunization Programme in India (1978 onwards) and consult reliable sources for information on vaccination, the disease burden on the nation will reduce considerably.
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