What is immunization?
Immunization is the process by which a person is exposed to a changed germ in order to fortify his or her defence system against that germ. You may be immunized actively through catching the disease, or passively through vaccines/shots. Your child needs shots for protection against deadly diseases that can present with rashes, fever, choking and coughing and that can cause brain damage, lung and heart problems, crippling disorders, deafness, blindness, vomiting, diarrhoea(running belly), and even death. Because of immunizations most parents of young children today have never seen a lot of these deadly diseases and therefore find it difficult to understand why it is important to protect against them. Vaccines are still given for three reasons:
To prevent common infections - a choice not to vaccinate is a choice to get the disease and its often deadly complications.
To prevent infections that could easily re-emerge
To prevent infections that are more common in other parts of the world.
In Jamaica we can immunize to protect against the following diseases:
- Tuberculosis (TB)
- Pertussis (Whooping Cough)
- Tetanus (Lockjaw)
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib disease - a major cause of bacterial meningitis/ brain infection)
- Hepatitis B
- Rubella (German Measles)
- Varicella (Chickenpox)
- Pneumococcal disease (causes bacterial meningitis, ear and blood infections)
- Gastroenteritis (Vomiting +/- Diarrhoea)
The following vaccinations are recommended by age two years:
- 4 doses of diphtheria, tetanus & pertussis vaccine (DTP)
- 4 doses of Hib vaccine
- 4 doses of polio vaccine
- 3 doses of hepatitis B vaccine
- 4 doses of pneumococcal vaccine
- 1 dose of measles, mumps & rubella vaccine (MMR)
- 1 dose of Varicella vaccine
- At least 2 doses of the Rotavirus vaccine (against Gastroenteritis)
Older children also need Booster doses of MMR and DPT/Polio at age 4-6 years and of DT/Polio as adolescents ( maybe given on entering High school). This should be repeated every 10 years as adults.
Do they work?
YES! Given at the right times, you can greatly reduce the chances of your child getting these diseases.
When to start?
Immunization should begin at birth, or as close as possible in order to prevent your child and other children from being infected. These children do not yet have the natural defences to protect them. This is especially important for those who attend Day Care or Nursery School. Infections can also be transmitted by school aged children, and adults, to younger ones who remain at home.
Side effects can occur with some vaccines. These include slight fever, rash or soreness at the site of injection and are usually not a cause for alarm. Your Paediatrician can advise you how to manage these.
Serious reactions or side effects to vaccines may occur but are rare. The risks of the diseases and their complications far outweigh the risks of the side effects of the vaccines. Contact your Paediatrician, nearest Hospital or Health Centre immediately if you think your child is experiencing a severe reaction.
Remember always to keep your child’s vaccination record safe and update it with every additional vaccine. This helps you and your doctor keep your child on schedule. It is also important for school attendance and if you change doctors or migrate. KEEP THE IMMUNIZATION CARD CLEAN AND SAFE.
For further reading we recommend the following Medscape Pediatrics article: Five Vaccine Myths Debunked