Childhood Vaccinations – AGREE or DISAGREE?
For some, vaccinating their children is not even a question, whilst for others, it can be a bit more of a headache. It is only natural that you want to know what you are putting into your brand new baby, and whether there are any risks of having the vaccination, so you can make a fully informed and educated choice.
The vaccination debate is a tricky one. Once you are fully aware of the details surrounding them, you tend to be very much on one side or the other. It is not always something that people have few opinions of; particularly if they have children.
Although it always advisable to talk through your options with a health professional, we have listed some of the pros and cons of childhood vaccinations, simply to educate people on what they are; not to say whether you should be giving your child them or not. That is a decision that only parents can make, and we are not here to persuade, simply to inform.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines are obviously used to prevent us from contracting diseases that could then prove to be fatal, or have lasting effects on our health.
They work by making the body produce antibodies to fight the disease that they are aiming to protect you from, without actually infecting you with the disease. Should the person then come into contact with the disease once they have been vaccinated, their immune system should recognise it and then immediately begin to produce the antibodies that are required to fight the disease.
There are certain times in a person’s life where they will need vaccination against specific diseases. For example, if a mother chooses to vaccinate her baby, they will have several in the first year of their life’ however, they will not require their measles, mumps and rubella (or the MMR) vaccination until they are a year old, because they have had antibodies passed to them from their mothers via the placenta in something that is called passive immunity.
What is in the vaccines?
In order for the vaccine to be effective, and for your body to begin making antibodies, the main ingredient of the vaccine is the disease-causing virus, bacteria or toxin. However; other components have to be added to this product in order to make the vaccine safe and effective.
There are two types of vaccines. Those that contain ‘killed’ or inactivated versions of the disease-causing virus, bacteria or toxin, or ‘live’ versions. This is known as the vaccine antigen.
Both types of vaccines work in the same way, and this is by stimulating the immune system so that it believes that it is being attacked by the active germ, causing your body to then produce the antibodies that will then stay in your immune system, thus protecting you from the same illness in the future.
Let’s take a quick look at the killed vaccines. The viruses in these have been destroyed with chemicals, or with heat. They are unable to replicate in the body, causing illness, but it does not destroy it enough that a person’s immune system cannot recognise it anymore and create antibodies. Killed vaccines often require a booster in order to maintain your immunity, for example, the flu jab, as killed vaccines normally produce a weaker immune response.
Live vaccines, on the other hand, contain viruses that have been weakened; however, not destroyed. These cannot cause the disease to develop in healthy individuals, but your body can still replicate enough to produce a strong immune response.
It is important that live vaccines are not given to those who have a compromised immune system, as their body would simply not be able to make enough antibodies quick enough, which could then mean that they are at risk of developing the disease that it has actually been designed to prevent!
Unlike vaccines that have been killed, live vaccinations, typically produce a stronger immune response, and will not require boosters as it will normally give you lifelong protection from the virus, such as the BCG vaccine.
Can you overload a child’s immune system?
One of the concerns that a lot of new mums have is that they are concerned that their child will have too many vaccines, and this will completely overload your child’s immune system, particularly when they have them whilst they are a young baby.
Rest assured though that this is not the case though, and in fact, studies and research have shown that there are actually no harmful effects from giving a number of injections or vaccines in one session. This is because your baby is exposed to and comes into contact with a huge number of different bacteria and viruses every day in their first few weeks of life, and their immune system will only become stronger as a result.
The bacteria that is used in the vaccines are actually much weakened than they natural bugs that babies and children will come into contact with. Immunisations are actually one of the best ways to improve their own protection against potentially life-threatening diseases at the earliest opportunity available to them.
Can immunising children eliminate diseases?
It stands to reason that as more and more of the world is vaccinated against certain viruses, thus protecting them from every contracting it, the disease will eventually completely disappear, and the vaccination programme can then be stopped. This is exactly what happened with the smallpox vaccination which is obviously no longer required.
If the disease is particularly infectious, more people will have to be vaccinated in order to keep the disease under control. For example, the measles vaccination rate needs to remain high in order to keep the disease from spreading because it is just so infectious. If people stop being vaccinated, it is very likely that measles will just very quickly spread again.
To put it into perspective, if 95 percent of children had the MMR vaccination, it would be possible to eliminate measles, mumps and rubella. This is because 90 percent of children have to be immune in order to stop this disease from spreading.
Are there nasty ingredients in vaccines?
One of the main reasons that parents are often wary of giving their children vaccinations is due to what is in them.
Thiomersal is a preservative used in vaccinations, that contains small amounts of mercury. Although very high doses of mercury can be toxic to the brain and other organs; it is used in such small amounts, that no harmful effects have been linked between these effects and vaccinations.
There have been a lot of concerns that the use of thiomersal can cause autism, although this is really rather dated now, and there is actually no scientific evidence that supports this claim at all. It should also be noted though that this ingredient is no longer used in the vaccines that are given to babies and young children anymore.
Pork gelatine is used as a stabilising agent in some vaccines, which help to protect them from the effects of heat and to maintain the shelf life. In the UK though, this is only added to a few vaccinations – the MMR vaccine, the shingles vaccine and the children’s nasal flu vaccine.
Often there is a concern due to religious beliefs about the use of pork gelatine in vaccines; however, faith group leaders have actually stated that the use of this ingredient is acceptable in vaccines, and does not actually break any religious rules.
A few vaccines also contain human serum, which is a substance in the human blood. It is used to stabilise the vaccine and maintain its quality. The serum comes from screened blood donors only, and the manufacturing process ensures that any risk of transmitting disease is eliminated.
The MMR vaccine and the flu vaccine both contain small amounts of egg protein, and there is a small risk of getting an allergic reaction. Therefore those with an egg allergy should say, as they are advised to have an alternative vaccination.
Formaldehyde is used in the early manufacturing process to kill or inactivate the bacteria, virus or toxin. In high concentrations this can be very harmful; however, there are no health concerns about the very small amounts that are found in the final vaccine.
Finally, the MMR vaccination contains an extremely small amount of the antibiotic neomycin, so therefore, anyone who has an allergy to this drug should inform their doctor before they are given the MMR vaccination.
Are there any side effects?
Another worry is that certain vaccinations will affect their children, or make them feel after they have been administered. Like all medications there are common side effects; however, these are usually mild and short-lived.
Common side effects of any injections include redness or swelling around the injection site, but this normally does not last for very long. In the case of younger children or babies, they might feel a little unwell or become a bit irritable, and they might even develop a slight temperature, but this usually only lasts for 1 to 2 days.
In extreme cases, people might suffer from rarer side effects, and people can develop an allergic reaction soon after being given the vaccination. This normally presents itself in the form of a rash that can affect part or the whole body. There is also a risk of an anaphylactic reaction; however, this is very rare.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of vaccinations are very simple. They will prevent your child from becoming unwell with measles, or contracting the potentially fatal, meningitis.
It is quite simple that deciding not to vaccinate your child will essentially put them at risk of catching a whole host of potentially very serious, and even fatal diseases. The reality is that giving your child a vaccination is much safer than not giving them one at all. This does not mean that they are always effective for every child, but they give them the best chance to build up antibodies that can them help them to fight off nasty viruses and diseases.