Immunisation is one of those topics which generate a lot of passion. One of the major reasons why it creates such debate is that there is so much misinformation about it.
Separating fact from fiction is an important starting point for parents to make informed decisions around their child’s immunisations.
This article is written to help you understand what science and evidence says about immunisation and the reasons why it is so important.
Stimulating the baby’s immune system to respond as if an infection is actually present. But this is only in a very mild way, and importantly, without developing any of the symptoms of the disease. The baby then creates antibodies and memory cells to protect them from future infection.
If, in the future, the baby’s immune system is exposed to a live germ or toxin of a vaccine-preventable disease, their immune system responds by killing it.
The viruses or bacteria which are in vaccines cannot cause illness and are altered considerably from their original state.
Fact – Every baby is at risk of contracting an infectious disease, no matter how healthy and well they are. Infections caused by viruses, bacteria or fungus can quickly multiply and invade even the healthiest body.
The best defence against infection with a childhood communicable disease is immunity. This is created when specialised cells and chemicals fight infection.
Immunity means the next time someone is exposed to the same invading organisms, their body’s immune system “remembers” and they are protected.
Fact – Pregnancy and breastfeeding do provide some level of protection but this is not absolute. Pregnancy benefits only last for around four months after birth and are not long acting. A baby’s immune system is still immature and they are still vulnerable to infection. Until they have had a chance to build immunity through immunisation, all babies are at risk.
The placenta also offers a certain level of protection but the maternal-foetal barrier relies on a mother’s immunity, either through her own vaccination or exposure to the particular disease. If her own antibody level is low, then her baby won’t be as protected as if her own levels were higher.
Fact – There is no science to support this theory. The immune system is designed to deal with multiple organisms every day. In fact, there is evidence to support the view that the greater the number of antigens, the healthier a child’s immune response may be. This is thought to be why children who grow up in households where pets live as well are at less risk of developing asthma and allergic disease.
Combining vaccines also means that children don’t need to get as many needles.
The other concern with delaying vaccines is that children are then at risk of contracting disease. Timing and spacing of vaccines is very important. Missing one or delaying the time gap between them can mean that the child is not as protected as they would otherwise be. When given at the earliest possible time, the benefits of vaccination are at their peak.
Immunisation is not effective straightaway. It can take 1-3 weeks for vaccinations to work and for the immune response to be fully activated.
Fact – In 1998 some British research was published which claimed that there was a link between the Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, as well as Autism. But this was never proven and in fact, the lead author was found guilty of serious professional misconduct. The researchers were discredited and their findings retracted.
There has never been a proven link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Fact – This is not true and not supported by science. We still do not fully understand the cause for SIDS; however, we do know about ways to reduce the risk. Check www.sidsandkids.org for specific recommendations.
Fact – Childhood disease such as whooping cough (pertussis) and measles can be extremely serious and their complications can cause death. Rarely, a child will have an allergic or anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine. This is why it’s important to be monitored for 15 minutes after any vaccine.
All vaccination providers are trained in anaphylactic management. When there is an adverse event following immunisation the vaccination provider needs to report this to their state/territory health department or TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration).
Fact – It is still possible to contract a disease even after being immunised for it. But generally the illness is not as severe and the symptoms reduced. Importantly, the risks of side effects are considerably reduced. Chickenpox for example, can lead to very serious complications.
No vaccine provides a 100% guarantee of effectiveness. But the risk of infection can be as high as 100% if there is an outbreak of a communicable disease and an individual is not protected by vaccination.
Fact – Adults need vaccinations too, for diseases such as influenza and boosters for whooping cough and tetanus. If you are considering going overseas, speak with your GP about the countries you are visiting and what diseases are endemic there. Check here for specific information.
This means that the more people who are vaccinated in a community, the greater the level of protection to everyone. The higher the overall level of immunity, the less spread of infection. Young babies who are too young to have received their primary course of immunisations are at risk of developing childhood disease. So are people who do not have the protection of a healthy immune system. Chemotherapy and diseases which affect the immune system mean that individuals cannot fight off infection as effectively as others.
We all have a social responsibility to protect others. The higher the rate of protection in a community, the safer everyone is.
This article was written by Jane Barry, child health nurse, midwife and director of www.mybabybaby.com.au
Last updated May 2015