The importance of childhood immunisations

With Bay Cluster Network

Dr Lamah El-Sharkawi is a GP in Uplands and Mumbles Surgery and her sister Reem El-Sharkawi is a GP pharmacist, both are part of the Bay Cluster Network. This month they look at immunisation in children.

The 23rd April marks the start of European Immunisation Week, promoting essential immunisation of every person in order to prevent certain diseases. Immunisations save lives. In the 1950s, thousands of children died from diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. Major immunisation programmes have luckily made it rare for death to occur from these diseases. However, more recently, the outbreak of measles in South Wales means Public Health Wales are once again urging all parents to ensure children are up to date with all their vaccinations.

How do vaccinations work?

Vaccines work by producing an immune response. Following the introduction of the vaccine, the body mounts an immune response by producing antibodies. These are proteins which protect the body by neutralising bacteria, viruses and their products, should the body come into contact with the disease in the future. Vaccines provide a “practice run” for the immune system, preparing the body to be able to fight disease if it is ever exposed to it.

Why do children get so many immunisations?

A number of vaccinations are needed in the first few years of life to protect against serious infections. The immune system of babies does not work as well as older children as it is still immature, thus more doses of vaccine are needed. In the first few months of life, a baby is protected by its mother’s antibodies. When these antibodies wear off, babies are at risk of serious infection.

What are the side effects of immunisations?

It is possible to have some side effects from immunisations. Most of these tend to be mild and self-limiting.

Common side effects can include :-

  • Redness, swelling or pain at the site of injection
  • Fever
  • Unsettled or sleepy

If your child experiences these side effects you may consider using paracetamol to settle the temperature and soreness. If, however, you are worried or feel something is not right, then as always the advice would be to contact your GP.

There is a very small chance of your child experienc- ing a serious reaction after immunisations. Examples of serious reactions include anaphylaxis, a serious immediate allergic reaction. This is completely reversible if treated quickly. If you think your child is experi-encing a serious reaction following immunisation then contact your GP immediately or call 999.

Immunising your child can help protect them against potentially fatal illnesses. In addition, immunisation helps stop the spread of disease in the community, so will protect others too. Whilst side effects can occur to vaccinations these tend to be mild. Finally, if immunisation was adopted by all, the risk of certain dis-eases could be removed for future generations. This has already been achieved with certain diseases, such as small pox. We hope in a few years we will be able to say that measles has become a disease of the past.




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