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Parents, immunise your children

Published:Wednesday | April 4, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Lisa Franklin

As we prepare to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Vaccination Week in the Americas (April 21-28) I want to take this opportunity to write about immunisation. In my practice, I am regularly questioned by parents on the importance of immunising their children. So what exactly is immunisation? And why is it important?

Immunisation is the process whereby a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine. Vaccines reduce the risk of infection by working with the body's natural defence to help it safely develop immunity to disease. It is one of the best ways parents can protect their children from harmful diseases.

Fight invaders

Vaccination involves injecting a weakened form of the disease into the body. In response, the body develops immunity by making soldiers (antibodies) to fight invaders. If the natural disease ever attacks the body, these soldiers are present and ready to fight the disease.

The vaccination schedule is designed to protect children from potentially serious diseases before exposure to them. Children under five years are especially susceptible to disease because their immune systems have not built up the necessary defences to fight infection.

There are a number of combination vaccines available. This helps to reduce office visits, save time and money and it is easier on the child.

Side effects

Like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects, most of them mild. These include fever, fussiness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was administered. Serious reactions are rare. Fever can be treated with an appropriate dose of 'antifever' medication at appropriate intervals. A cool, wet cloth can be used to reduce any redness, soreness or swelling caused by the vaccine. You should, however, consult your physician immediately if any of the following are present:

Fever greater than 103 F.

Inconsolable crying for greater than three hours.

Seizures within 24 hours of receiving the vaccine.

Parents often question the need to vaccinate their child against a disease they have never seen. We must remember those diseases that are non-existent in Jamaica still exist in other parts of the world and could reach our shores at any time.

MMR and autism

I have seen a number of parents who are hesitant to immunise their children with one particular vaccine, the MMR due to the perceived link to autism. Numerous studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. In fact, in 2004 a long-disputed 1998 study that suggested a possible link between autism and the MMR vaccine was retracted. Even before this retraction, the controversial 1998 study was rejected by major health organisations including the World Health Organization.

Remember to bring your child's personal immunisation record to each vaccine visit. Working together we can keep our children healthy.

Dr Lisa N.C. Franklin-Banton is the president of the Paediatric Association of Jamaica; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com