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Getting children vaccinated – the BIG debate.

July 5th, 2019
Getting children vaccinated – the BIG debate.
The fact is, that vaccination is one of the most effective forms of public health in the world – second only to clean water. There are regularly news reports showing the devastating effects of epidemics in third world countries – with the comment that so much misery and child mortality would not occur if an immunisation programme was in place. Nevertheless, child immunisation is an emotive subject with arguments in favour and against and it is one that as a new parent you must give careful consideration to very early on...

Vaccinations are given to children to protect them from diseases that can have serious consequences – including death. One of the dangerous effects of measles for example, is that it can cause swelling of the brain which can lead to brain damage or death. With mumps, a child runs the risk of becoming permanently deaf and meningitis can cause both brain swelling and deafness. As parents, we need to protect our children against the risk of these potentially dangerous illnesses – in just the same way that we buy the best possible car seat to keep them safe when they travel. Parents only want the best for their children and to protect them whenever possible, so what better way than by ensuring that your child is given all their vaccinations on time, because in doing so you could be saving your child's life.

It is true that some infections can be prevented by avoiding physical contact with anyone who is sick and maintaining a high level of personal hygiene such as washing hands thoroughly whenever you go to the toilet and ensuring your child gets into the habit very early on. Unfortunately, some infections like measles are airborne so are impossible to prevent. Another problem is that some people that you and your child come in contact with are carriers of germs – even if they are not ill themselves. Measles and mumps cannot be treated so it is much safer to get your child protected by having them vaccinated.

Certainly it has been proven, time and time again that when the number of young children not being vaccinated against a certain disease increases, so does the number of recorded incidents of that disease. Polio was once a dreaded disease killing and paralysing thousands of children but today because of immunisation, polio is now under control. Smallpox, used to be equally dreaded but has been eliminated worldwide by immunisation which is why the vaccine is no longer given. The introduction of the Rubella (German Measles) vaccination has dramatically reduced the risk to pregnant women. Many people believe that compulsory immunisation has the same dramatic and positive effect on public health as wearing seat belts in cars and the ban on smoking in public areas.

Certainly, most parents feel uncomfortable when having their baby/ child vaccinated and wince when they proffer their little one's arm or thigh to receive the vaccination – and this is made worse when the child cries! In reality, the child's tears soon disappear and although the site of the vaccination may stay red for a while and the child could feel slightly 'under the weather' for a couple of days, an allergic reaction to the immunisation is extremely rare. Short-lived discomfort is a small price to pay for a lifetime's protection. Scientists and doctors are continually assessing the vaccinations to ensure that they are the safest that they can be.
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Many parents are naturally concerned about the safety of the different vaccinations and whether they should get their baby immunised. Having said that, they have never seen the devastating consequences that infectious diseases can have on unvaccinated children –

with so many babies and young children dying from a preventable childhood disease. Parents are anxious and suspicious about the effects of the vaccination on their child, rather than having concerns about the effects on their child if they were to contract the disease.

In Great Britain, Sweden and Japan the number of children aged 0- 6 years being immunised against Pertussis (whooping cough) dropped for some years in the 70s -80s because of huge concerns about the safety of the vaccine – and this had startling effects. In Great Britain, the number of cases shot up to 100,000 cases in 1974 and stayed at that level for five years, with 36 deaths recorded in 1978. In Japan, the take-up on the vaccination dropped from 75% to 30% and the 393 cases recorded in 1974 increased to 13,000 cases in 1979 – including 41 deaths. In Sweden a similar huge increase was recorded with the incidence per 100,000 children climbing from 700 in 1981 to 3,200 just four years later.

Unfortunately, worries about the dangers of having their child immunised often causes delays with parents not having the immunisation done until the child is older – often just about to start school. Unfortunately, this puts the child at risk because babies/ toddlers are much more vulnerable to disease which is why health experts have always advocated vaccination in the first year of life.

It is important to consider the fact that if you delay having your child immunised, you will be putting the health of others at risk -
Those with a weakened immune system such as those with leukaemia.
People with chronic heart and lung problems and those with diabetes.
Newborn babies who are too young to be vaccinated.
The elderly who often develop complications from disease.

Another important consideration is that not having your child immunised can cause trouble if you plan to travel as a family as they will be at risk of contracting an immunisation preventable disease. If they do contract one of these diseases whilst abroad, you could be prevented from travelling with them until they have recovered -which will certainly lead to great inconvenience, some hefty bills and the anxiety of seeing your child so poorly. .

In a number of countries, vaccination of children is now mandatory. In 50 states in the United States, all children must be immunised before they reach five years of age and begin school - with a few medical exceptions. In just a handful of states, children are exempted from vaccination on the grounds of their parents' moral beliefs. In 2017, it became a legal requirement in Italy for all young children to be immunised and in 2018, immunisation of all young children became a legal obligation in France, Finland and Romania bringing the number of EU countries with mandatory vaccination to ten. A number of other countries are considering to follow the same path. In contrast, Australia has a different approach, giving parents a financial incentive to have their child immunised.

The debate continues, but just imagine, if the current vaccination programmes are as effective today as others have been, some of the diseases that are having such devastating effects today, could well become history in years to come....

Angey x

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