Getting your child immunised is vital to ensure she stays healthy, but seeing a needle stabbed into your precious little one is a traumatic time. Here's why those jabs are a necessary evil.
Immunisations give your baby protection against a range of potentially life-threatening diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough (pertussis) and meningitis C.
Your GP will let you know when your baby's jabs are due. If your baby is unwell on the day of the vaccination, then the jabs will be postponed.
You are advised not to vaccinate if your child already has a fever. There are also some illnesses that may prevent him having BCG, oral polio or MMR vaccinations. These include cancer and if he's had certain transplants.
Injections may also be delayed if your child was born prematurely.
Jabs are usually given by the nurse. Some are given into the arm, and others into the thigh or buttock. Sit your baby on your lap - she'll probably feel pain where she's injected and may be startled. She's also likely to cry but lots of cuddles should comfort her. Offering a breast or bottlefeed may help to calm and distract her, too.
Although vaccinations rarely cause a severe allergic reaction, you'll probably be asked to wait at the surgery for around for 10 minutes to check your baby is fine.
How do vaccines work?
‘The vaccines contain a very small dose of the bacteria or virus that causes the disease, which stimulates the immune system to make antibodies against it,' says Prima Baby expert GP Rob Hicks. ‘Babies acquire some natural protection, or immunity, from their mothers while they are in the womb and also through breastfeeding. But this eventually wears off, hence the need for vaccinations.'
Are there any side effects?
No vaccine is completely without side effects. But they're small compared with the risk posed by catching a disease. One in five babies develops a red patch bigger than 3cm in diameter at the injection site. The area may look inflamed but isn't generally painful. Sometimes a small lump develops that may last several weeks.
It's normal for a baby to be miserable after an injection, to cry when the affected area is touched, develop a temperature or seem a bit unwell. Give her some children's paracetamol or ibuprofen liquid, plenty of cool drinks, or offer more breastfeeds. Having a fit after a vaccination is very rare, but if it happens, call your doctor.
What about the MMR?
Take-up of MMR dropped dramatically after concerns were raised that it might be linked with autism and bowel disease. But further research has failed to find a link. ‘Vaccines have to undergo years of clinical trials before they are licensed. Studies from around the world have not found a link, and the majority of experts believe the vaccine doesn't cause autism,' says Dr Hicks. Millions of children worldwide still die from measles and the number of UK measles cases has risen to its highest for 20 years. No one has died from the MMR jab.
What about single MMR jabs?
‘Most doctors argue against single vaccinations because it means six instead of two injections and research shows the more jabs a child needs, the less likely it is they'll receive the full course,' says Dr Hicks. The longer it takes to be protected, the more chance they have of coming into contact with the infection naturally. This risk increases if fewer children are vaccinated.
Won't all these jabs overload my baby's immune system?
No. ‘Vaccine overload' is a myth. ‘From birth, a baby comes into contact with thousands of viruses, which the immune system copes with every day. It's estimated that a baby's immune system could tolerate 1,000 vaccines at one time,' says Dr Hicks.
|Diseases your child will be protected against
- Diphtheria An acute respiratory infection that causes breathing problems and can damage the heart and nervous system.
- Tetanus This is often contracted through a cut in the skin. The illness affects the muscles and causes breathing difficulties. Also known as ‘lockjaw’.
- Whooping cough Causes inflammation of the respiratory tract and a cough. It can lead to life-threatening complications.
- Polio Virtually unheard of in the UK now due to vaccination rates, polio attacks the nervous system and can cause muscle paralysis. It can be life threatening.
- Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) Can lead to serious infections including meningitis, pneumonia, and blood poisoning (septicaemia).
- Meningitis C An inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Although it can be fatal, most children recover, but some are left deaf, blind or brain damaged.
- Pneumococcal infection Can cause illnesses such as meningitis, blood poisoning and pneumonia.
- Measles A vaccination programme in the 60s hugely reduced cases of measles. But it is on the up again after doubts about the safety of the MMR jab. Measles causes a rash and fever. Complications include encephalitis (inflammation of the brain tissue), which can be fatal.
- Mumps Viral infection causing inflammation of the salivary glands under the jawbone. Complications are uncommon but in boys the testes can become painful and swollen. The number of cases has recently doubled because of reduced MMR uptake.
- Rubella Also known as German measles, it’s usually a minor illness. It is dangerous for pregnant women, though, as it can infect the baby, causing birth defects or miscarriage. The vaccination is given to babies to protect pregnant women.
About the pneumococcal vaccine
This has been given routinely to children in the US since 2000 and most French children receive it. Previously it was only offered to UK children at high risk, such as those with leukaemia. But in 2006 the Government announced that the vaccine, championed by Prima Baby, would become part of the vaccination programme. Children are given doses at 2 months and 4 months, then a booster after they turn 1.
Pneumococcal disease kills around 50 children each year, causing blood poisoning, meningitis and pneumonia. The telltale rash that appears with other forms of meningitis often isn’t there, but with babies under 1 year old, you may notice irritability, lethargy, fever or poor feeding. Seek help immediately.
|Which jab when? Your at-a-glance guide
|2 months old
Protects against: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio and hib meningitis.
Protects against: pneumococcal infection.
|3 months old5-in-1 – 2nd doseProtects against: diseases as before.
Protects against: meningococcal group C bacteria that can cause meningitis and septicaemia. Meningitis C kills one in ten who get it.
|4 months old
5-in-1 – 3rd dose
Protects against: diseases as before.
MenC – 2nd dose
Protects against: diseases as before.
|Around 12 months
Protects against: hib meningitis and meningitis C.
|Around 13 months
Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
Protects against:measles, mumps and rubella.
Protects against: diseases as before.
BCG, vaccine against tuberculosis. It’s given at birth to babies in areas at high risk of TB.
A ‘catch up’ pneumococcal jab will be given to kids under 2 who’ve missed out.
The chickenpox vaccine
In the US, Japan and some European countries, the chickenpox jab is given routinely at about 1 year old. There is still debate about whether to introduce it in the UK.
'There is concern about introducing a vaccine that could wear off and delay a disease that is nastier the older you get,' says Dr David Elliman, paediatrician at Great Omond Street Hospital. 'And, due to the MMR scare, people are less likely to accept another vaccine right now.'
WHEN NOT TO VACCINATE
Always seek advice about vaccinations from your GP if...
- Your child has had a reaction to previous immunisations.
- He has ever had a fit or convulsion.
- He has an allergy to eggs - the MMR vaccine is prepared using eggs.
- He is on medication that affects his immune system, such as drugs for cancer.
- He has an illness that affects his immune system, such as HIV
•For comprehensive information on childhood vaccinations visit www.immunisation.nhs.uk
•For impartial information on MMR take a look at www.mmrthefacts.nhs.uk