Every parent has the right to question what’s best for their child. The trick is to ask the right people the right questions. When it comes to vaccinating your child against preventable diseases, the best advice comes from medical experts (not Dr Google or a lifestyle blog).
As experts go, you can’t go past Associate Professor Chris Blyth. He’s the Deputy Chair of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation as well as a Paediatrician and Infectious Diseases Physician and Clinical Microbiologist at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, Path West Laboratory and the University of Western Australia. Try fitting that on a business card. I sat down with Chris to get some advice on vaccination.
Q: Why it is so important to ensure my child is vaccinated?
A: Vaccination is the safest way to ensure your child is protected against severe infections that are common or were once common. Vaccinating your child against these infections means that their immune system, the part of the body that protects them against infections, can quickly recognise bacteria or viruses and respond appropriately, protecting your child if they’re exposed to these germs.
Q: So kids aren’t born with natural immunity to these diseases?
A: Immunity is something that develops over a child’s life. A child is born with a very naïve immune system, able to respond in only a very rudimentary way to germs that they’re exposed to. To develop rapid, targeted and long-lasting immunity to specific germs, their immune system needs to be exposed to these germs or to a vaccine which tricks the immune system into thinking it has been exposed to these germs.
Q: If I have a new baby who isn’t old enough to get vaccinated, what should I do to protect them?
A: It’s recommended that children receive their first vaccine (Hepatitis B) in the days after birth. Other routine vaccines are recommended from six weeks of age. The immunity that a child gets from the placenta and through breastfeeding offers some protection against infection. Avoiding exposure to specific infections is the only way to further protect your child. That’s not to say that you need to remain isolated from society during the first few months of your child’s life – everyone needs to get out and about during this time. Just try not to expose your child to people who are sick and ensure that everyone who cuddles or touches your baby washes their hands with soap and water beforehand.
Q: I’ve heard a lot about herd immunity. Can you please explain how it works?
A: Vaccination doesn’t just protect your child, it protects unvaccinated people too. If the majority of people in society have protection, either through vaccination or natural infection, it’s harder for germs to pass from person to person.
A good example of this is what’s happened with measles. We rarely see measles in Australia today, and if we do, it is normally in an unvaccinated individual who has either travelled to a country where measles is circulating or is exposed to a person who has acquired measles elsewhere. Because most people are immune, even when we have a person who develops measles, it is very hard for the virus to find non-immune people and therefore to move from person to person. This is an example of herd immunity. Immunisation protects the society or “herd” from ongoing measles transmission. If we didn’t maintain very high levels of immunity to measles, the virus would spread rapidly through the community and would result in many children and adults developing severe disease including severe lung and brain infections. A significant number of these infections would be fatal.
Q: Are vaccines safe?
A: During their development, new vaccines are trialled on thousands of consenting participants to ensure that they are both safe and effective. These trials are heavily scrutinised by regulators such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia, prior to registration of the product. Once registered, the safety and use of vaccines are continually monitored through both passive and active safety surveillance systems. Vaccine safety is something that health officials see as critically important.
Q: Should I stick to the vaccine schedule or can I pick and choose which vaccines my child gets?
A: To provide the best protection for your child and the community, it's recommended that children receive all vaccines offered free on the National Immunisation Program at the time points recommended. For children with specific risk factors, modified schedules are sometimes recommended.
Q: What if my child doesn't like needles?
A: Nobody likes needles but unfortunately that’s the only way some vaccines can be administered. Because children and parents don’t like needles, we combine many different vaccines into a single injection and sometimes use oral vaccines. For example, the two injections and one oral vaccine recommended for children six to eight weeks of age offers protection against eight different diseases. Health professionals vaccinate many children and adults and therefore are able to vaccinate children quickly and efficiently. A calm parent, distraction, a warm cuddle afterwards and some pain relief if needed are all helpful.
Q: Will my child get sick or get a fever from the vaccination?
A: Vaccination exposes a child’s immune system to something new, something that the immune system needs to recognise as foreign in order for it to develop targeted protection. It is therefore not uncommon that your child will develop a mild reaction to the vaccine. The most common side effects are low-grade fever or pain or redness at the injection site.
Q: How do I know if my child’s vaccinations are up to date?
A: There is a national register of vaccines. If you don’t have a record of all your child’s vaccinations, a statement from the national register can be requested online via the myGov website or by phoning the Department of Human Services. If you have any questions about whether your child is overdue for a vaccine, any vaccine provider can help you.
So there you have it - advice from one of Australia’s leading immunisation experts and paediatricians. By ensuring your child is fully vaccinated, you’re not only protecting them, you’re protecting other children too.
If you’d like more information on how immunisation saves lives, visit immunisationfacts.gov.au.
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This content was created with thanks to our brand partner the Australian Government Department of Health.
93% of Aussie kids are fully vaccinated, but it’s not high enough. As parents, we all need to do more to protect our kids - especially newborn babies - from serious disease. The Australian Government’s ‘Get the facts about immunisation’ campaign has been developed to give you the facts about immunisation so that you can make informed decisions in the best interests of your child and our community.
Click here to get the facts about immunisation.