The most effective way to keep your children protected against infectious diseases is by making sure they have routine childhood immunisations. Here’s what you need to know.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines trigger the immune system to produce antibodies (substances produced by the body to fight disease), simulating but not actually causing infection. Once vaccinated against a particular disease, a person can come into contact with the disease and his or her immune system will recognise it and immediately produce the antibodies needed to fight it.
Are childhood vaccinations necessary?
‘Vaccinations are the best way to protect your child against a number of potentially serious diseases,’ states public health minister Anne Milton. Once children have been vaccinated against a particular disease, their bodies can fight that disease more effectively if they come into contact with it. But if kids are not vaccinated, they’ll be at increased risk of catching the illness. ‘Because some vaccine-preventable diseases can be very dangerous and sadly can even be fatal, it is vital for children to be immunised against certain diseases,’ believes Milton. However, it is not compulsory to get your child immunised. Milton explains, ‘Vaccination programmes are voluntary and the Department of Health aims to ensure that people have access to information on immunisation so that they can make an informed decision.’
What jabs should my child have and when?
There are several routine vaccinations that are offered free of charge by the NHS to all babies and children in the UK. These jabs are not given all at once but are carefully spaced to make sure children have the best chance of developing immunity against common diseases safely and effectively. They are also started early enough – when children are two months old – to ensure that kids are protected against illnesses that are often more common, and worse, in younger children.
Can vaccines cause side effects?
‘Vaccinations are quick, safe and extremely effective but, like all medicines, they can cause side effects,’ says Milton. Side effects from vaccines are usually mild and the most common are swelling, redness and a small hard lump at the injection site. These symptoms usually go away after a few days without treatment. Sometimes, following a vaccination, children can develop a fever when their temperature goes over 37.5°C. High temperatures can be brought down by giving kids cool drinks, making sure they’re not wearing too many layers and, if they’re uncomfortable, giving them a dose of infant paracetamol or ibuprofen. Because MMR is made up of three different vaccines (measles, mumps and rubella), reactions can appear at different times, from six days to three weeks, after the injection. Symptoms include a rash, fever and swollen glands.
Are vaccines safe?
‘Some immunisations have been associated in the press with serious side effects such as autism and Crohn’s disease,’ says Dr Terry Matthews, Consultant Paediatrician at Spire Hartswood and Spire Roding Hospitals. ‘But research has shown that these are not side effects of immunisation and concern about them should not prevent you having your child immunised.’ Milton agrees, ‘Vaccines have an excellent safety profile and can protect your child against the devastating consequences that some of these diseases can cause, but it is important to take advice from your GP or health professional.’