By Carleene Grant-Davis
Today, most children lead much healthier lives and parents live with much less anxiety and worry over certain serious infections during childhood. Immunisation is one of the success stories of modern medicine.
Immunisation has helped children stay healthy for more than 50 years. It is safe and its works. In fact, serious side effects are no more common than those from other types of medication. Vaccinations have reduced the number of infections from vaccine-preventable illnesses by more than 90 per cent! For example, in the USA, before the HIB (Haemophilus Influenza type B) vaccine was developed in the 1980s, there were about 20,000 cases of HIB diseases a year. Today, there are fewer than 100 cases a year.
A similar situation exists in Jamaica, with a marked reduction in the number of cases of HIB diseases.
We may be wondering, then, why are the vaccines still needed if the diseases are not as common anymore? Remember, however, that the bacteria and viruses that cause the diseases still exist. Hence children need the vaccine to be protected. Also, in some parts of the world, these diseases are still common. The disease may be brought into the country when people travel to these areas, or from people visiting areas with current disease outbreaks, so it is important that your child is vaccinated.
Most childhood vaccines are 90 to 99 per cent effective in preventing disease, and in the rare event that a vaccinated child does get the disease, the symptoms are usually milder, with less-serious complications than in a child who hasn't been vaccinated.
Any serious side effects?
There may be mild side effects, like swelling, redness, and tenderness where the shot was given, but they do not last long. Your child may also have a slight fever and be fussy for a short time afterward. More serious side effects are very rare, but may include:
High fever (greater than 103 Fahrenheit or 39.4 Celsius).
Hives or black-and-blue areas at places where the injection was not given.
Should all children be immunised?
Many parents feel that if their child has a fever or a cold, they should not be immunised. However, this is not so. Children with a minor illness such as low-grade fever (greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius), ear infection, cough, a runny nose, or mild diarrhoea can safely be immunised.
Children with certain health problems may need to avoid some vaccines or get them later. In most cases, children with cancer, those taking oral or injected steroids, or those who have problems with their immune systems should not get vaccines that are made with live viruses. To protect these children, it is very important that others around them are vaccinated. Currently, it is mandatory that all children in Jamaica receive the following vaccines:
There are others that are not mandatory, and hence will not be received at the public health centres, but are available and should be definitely considered. These include pneumococcal, rotavirus and chicken pox. The influenza vaccine should also be considered in a select group of children, such as asthmatics, and children with sickle-cell or other chronic illnesses.
Dr Carleene Grant-Davis is a consultant paediatrician and head, Dept of Paediatrics, Cornwall Regional Hospital; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.