Mothers want the best for their child in all aspects of their lives – especially their health – which has lead to the polarisation of opinions on the topic of vaccination. Whilst from the best intentions, there is a lot of misleading information out there about the pros and cons of vaccinating your kids. I wanted to digest some of that for you and help you understand why, in my opinion, vaccinating is so important.
We live in an era and country where some vaccines have been used for over fifty years, and the diseases they prevent have been greatly reduced to the point where we often don’t understand what they are or appreciate how effective they have been. However, it’s only location and widespread vaccine use that keep these nasties at bay!
Vaccines prevent infectious diseases caused by certain viruses, bacteria and their products, by stimulating the immune system. The immune system develops over time through experience of infection or vaccination, and develops a ‘memory’. Once someone has been vaccinated, the immune system ‘remembers’ that particular virus or bacteria, and when you next encounter that bug, you are already armed to deal with the infection. Vaccines are but a tiny drop in the immune system ocean compared to what babies successfully tackle each day, especially during teething! They help focus the immune system against very specific infections.
A vaccine will never give the disease you’re being vaccinated against because it doesn’t actually use the infectious virus or bacteria that can cause disease, although the immune system will see the vaccine as being the same. There are three different types of vaccines, and the type of vaccine used for a particular infection will depend on just how the immune system fights it and how it causes disease, resulting in different side effects as the immune system is stimulated in different ways. Furthermore, some vaccines require boosters to generate a long lasting response.
Side effects are often the reason we fear vaccines – high fevers, sleepless nights and an upset bub are never fun. But in most cases (99.99999%) this is totally normal. Our bodies make cytokines – tiny molecules – that activate the immune system and control our temperature, causing fever and local swelling as immune cells proliferate. This is actually a sign that the vaccination worked successfully and is typically nothing to worry about. Of course, you know your child best so if symptoms continue you should see your doctor, as the Ministry of Health in Singapore takes these matters very seriously.
Vaccines do not cause Autism. In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published an article linking the MMR vaccine to intestinal damage causing access to the nervous system. This was proven not to be true, and in 2004 this paper was retracted, having been rejected by all major health organisations, meaning it doesn’t have a scientific leg to stand on! Wakefield was found guilty of serious misconduct, but the effect of this study has been impossible to erase and still fuels doubts in parent’s minds. Categorically, it is totally wrong!
In Singapore, the recommended vaccine schedule is quite similar to the UK, Australia and the USA. In Australia and some other countries, your child’s immunisation schedule is even linked to tax benefits and schools require a vaccination status certificate for enrolment – so ensure your kids are up to date and keep good records!
Infections such as measles may have low prevalence, but are highly contagious and cause serious disease. Tetanus is ubiquitous, (found in soil and even rusty nails); influenza comes in seasonal waves; and rotavirus, a common cause of childhood diarrhoea, causes small outbreaks. In Singapore the BCG vaccine is recommended at birth, whilst in the USA the influenza vaccination is advised from six months of age. This is where vaccination choice can come into play and can polarise parental opinion. My advice? Investigate extensively what the vaccine is, the severity of the disease caused and the benefits of vaccination as opposed to the side effects.
There is a huge amount of information out there about childhood vaccination, but always ensure your information is from a reliable source! I thought this website was a both informative and easy to read.
A favourite gift for my new mama friends is World Vision Childhood Immunisation, which costs AU$25/SGD$30. We are so lucky to have the choice of vaccines readily available for our children, so this is a great way to share that privilege with those less fortunate than ourselves.
Sophie has a PhD in Viral Immunology from the University of Melbourne in Australia and now works at the University of Hong Kong.