More information on Vaccines and Vaccinations

What is vaccination?

Vaccination protects children against serious diseases by training the immune system against disease germs.

What is a vaccine made of?

Vaccines contain several basic types of substances:

1. All vaccines contain disease antigen – in other words a killed or weakened form of the disease germ that the vaccine protects against. Disease antigen is the core of any vaccine; it is the part that produces immunity.

2. Some vaccines contain adjuvants. These are substances that help vaccines produce a stronger immune response.

3. Some vaccines come in vials containing multiple doses. Some of these contain a preservative, to prevent contamination once the vial has been opened.

4. A diluent is a liquid – usually saline or sterile water – used to reconstitute a powdered vaccine.

5. Vaccine antigens are grown on "growth media" that can contain a variety of substances, such as yeast. Other substances, such as formaldehyde, can be used during the production of vaccines. All these substances are removed from the final product, but tiny traces of them, too small to have a clinical effect, can remain.

How does vaccines work?

Vaccines contain the same germs that cause disease. But they have been either killed, or weakened to the point that they don’t make you sick. Some vaccines contain only a part of the disease germ.

When a child is vaccinated, the vaccine stimulates his immune system to produce antibodies , exactly like it would if he were exposed to the disease. The child will develop immunity to that disease.

Antibodies: Proteins produced by the body to get rid of a disease organism Immunity: The body can remember a germ. Later on, if the person is exposed to the same germ again, antibodies are quickly deployed to eliminate it before it can make the person sick again. This is called immunity.

What are the benefits of vaccination?

Benefits of Vaccination: The most obvious benefit of vaccination is, of course, protection from disease. But there is more to it than that. There are really three types of benefit to vaccination — personal benefits and community benefits.

Personal benefits: Vaccinating your child will protect him from potentially serious diseases

Community benefits: When most children in a community are immune, even if one child gets sick, the disease will probably not spread. That’s because it will have nowhere to go – if the sick child comes in contact only with children who are immune, the disease will die out. This is called herd immunity.

Can a child be given more than one vaccine at a time?

Scientific evidence shows that giving several vaccines at the same time has no negative effect on a child’s immune system. Children are exposed to several hundred foreign substances that trigger an immune response every day. The simple act of eating food introduces new antigens into the body, and numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose. A child is exposed to far more antigens from a common cold or sore throat than they are from vaccines.

What are the benefits of combination vaccines?

The key advantage of having several vaccines at once is fewer clinic visits, which saves time and money. Also, when a combined vaccination is possible (e.g. for measles, mumps and rubella), that will result in fewer injections and reduces discomfort for the child. A number of steps can also be taken to minimise the pain of the multiple injections.

Is there need to vaccinate older children. I feel vaccines are for babies only?

In addition to the routine childhood vaccines, there are other vaccines that are recommended for older children or adolescents, or for young children under certain circumstances. Your health-care provider can advise you about the use of these vaccines.

How safe are vaccines?

This is a question that will naturally concern any new parent. No matter how good vaccines are at preventing disease, no matter how much they have reduced disease over the years, no matter how many lives they have saved, what if they can actually harm my baby?

Vaccine safety is a complex issue. In the meantime, here are some general facts:
Can vaccines harm my child?
Any medicine can cause a reaction, even aspirin. Vaccines are no exception.
Will vaccines harm my child?
Probably not. Most children won’t have any reaction at all to a given vaccine. For those who do, most reactions are very minor . . . a sore leg, a slight rash, or a mild fever that goes away within a day or two. Some children have moderate reactions like a high fever, chills, or muscle aches. Severe allergic reaction. It is extremely rare that a kid gets severe reactions like encephalopathy (brain infection),or a severe allergic reaction.

Are there some children who shouldn’t receive some vaccines?

Vaccine doses are recommended at specific ages. These recommendations are based on studies showing when children are at highest risk for the different diseases and at what ages vaccines work best. But the schedule is not “one size fits all”.

For every vaccine, there are “contraindications” and “precautions.” These are conditions that make a child ineligible to get certain vaccines, or cause vaccine doses to be postponed. For example, a child who has a severe allergy to eggs should not get flu vaccine (which contains egg protein); or a child with a weakened immune system should not get live-virus vaccines. A child who is moderately or seriously ill should usually wait until he recovers before getting any vaccine.

You can talk with your doctor and he/she help you determine if any contraindications or precautions apply to your baby.

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