Thanks to vaccines, your child is less likely to contract serious illnesses like measles, polio, and whooping cough. Learn about the immunisations that are recommended for your little one and which shots to expect at your child's check-ups.
WORDS ANNA FERNANDEZ
It can be overwhelming keeping track of your child’s immunisation schedule when you are a new parent. And we know how painful it is to watch your baby get pricked and even worse to witness the inevitable crying and discomfort as a result. However, immunisation is a simple and effective way to protect your child from serious diseases.
Young children are more exposed to dangerous substances because they live their lives closer to the ground and, especially in the early years, they are frequently exposed to hand-to-mouth activities. During this crucial period, their central nervous, reproductive, digestive, and immune systems are still developing.
According to Dr Mary Varughese, consultant, Division of General Ambulatory Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, National University Hospital, “Babies and young children are most vulnerable to transmissible infections as their body defence mechanisms are not yet well-developed. Vaccinations are essential in protecting against specific infections that have potential life-threatening and irreversible complications.”
How Does a Vaccine Work?
A vaccine contains a small fraction of the same antigens that cause the disease in question. When children are exposed to a disease in vaccine form, their immune system cannot recognise that the virus is a weakened version, and so engulfs it as if it were dangerous, producing antibodies that protect them from contracting the disease if they are exposed to it in actuality.
For some vaccines, the first dose does not provide
complete immunity. When a vaccine’s immunity begins
to wear off, a booster dose is required to bring the immunity
levels back up, thereby facilitating full protection.
Dr Varughese elaborates, “For safety reasons, viruses and bacteria in some vaccines are killed or weakened. These inactivated vaccines are less immunogenic and multiple booster doses are usually necessary to build adequate protection. Five per cent of children may not develop adequate immunity following vaccinations due to genetic reasons. Booster doses of vaccines at appropriate intervals help to increase the efficacy to 99 per cent.”
Vaccinations protect children from serious illnesses and complications of vaccine-preventable diseases which can include the amputation or paralysis of limbs, hearing loss, convulsions, brain damage, and even death.
With the advancement of medical science, it is now possible for people to be protected from an increasing number of diseases, some of which once injured or killed thousands and have now been eliminated entirely. Vaccines prevent disease in the people who receive them, as well as protect those who come into contact with unvaccinated individuals.
Getting your child vaccinated also leads to herd immunity. When a large proportion of people in a population are effectively vaccinated against a certain disease, the entire community is less likely to get the disease. Dr Varughese explains, “This is especially important in a small country like Singapore, to protect a small percentage of children who either cannot be vaccinated due to immune system problems or do not develop the adequate immune response to their vaccines.”
Some believe that there is no need to vaccinate because the risk of getting one of these infections is low as the majority of children today are vaccinated. However, unlike diseases that are spread through person-to-person contact, some will never be eradicated completely because the bacteria that causes it is present in the environment instead. Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is an example of such a disease with an unusual elimination threshold. An individual becomes infected by coming into contact with the spores of tetanus bacteria in the environment, such as in soil, dust, and manure, or on medical instruments.
Some people believe that naturally acquired immunity
from contracting the disease itself is better than the immunity
provided by vaccines. However, natural infections can cause
possible life-threatening complications, even for diseases
that most people consider mild, like chickenpox.
All these vaccinations, on the other hand, are generally safe with mild reactions like soreness at the injection site and a low-grade fever.
The Importance of Vaccinating Your Child
Some vaccines are administered at a later stage of development because antibodies transferred from the mother to the baby can provide some protection from the disease and make the vaccine less effective until about one year of age. Despite this natural immunity, Dr Varughese emphasises that the vaccination series start as early as possible before exposure to these diseases occur because the protection offered by maternal antibodies would wane by about six to nine months of age.
She explains, “The antibodies passed passively from a pregnant mother to her baby are inadequate to protect the baby for very long. Vaccinating the infant will produce a more specific response and built-in memory that can rapidly produce antibodies and lymphocytes in the future when needed to fight infections.”
Even with the continuous advances in health care, the diseases that immunisations prevent can still be very serious – and vaccination is the best way to prevent them.
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