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Immunisation: What Every Parent Should Know

The first year of a baby’s life is usually the busiest for every parent, with trips to the doctor’s clinic every other month. Find out more about vaccinations and why they are crucial for your baby.

As soon as your baby is born, he would be jabbed with BCG, a vaccine that protects him from tuberculosis, a potentially deadly disease. Upon your discharge from the hospital, one of the most important reminders you will receive is to remember your baby’s immunization schedule.

What exactly are these vaccines for and how do they protect your baby from infections? Knowing more will help you keep your commitment to your baby’s appointments with the doctor.

What are vaccines?

The concept of vaccination started way back in 1000 BC when traditional healers observed that people who have been infected with a disease will develop a natural immunity to it. Vaccines are in fact weakened forms of diseases. Although we can get natural immunity from actually catching the disease, it is definitely not advisable as many diseases are potentially deadly.

Bacteria and viruses are processed by either exposing them to extreme heat or modifying the genetic material of their cells, and these are made into vaccines which are introduced into the body either by injection or orally. As soon as they enter our bodies, our immune system will treat them just like any other antigen or germ, identifying and isolating them.

The difference lies in the fact that these germs can no longer harm our bodies as they are not the real ones that can make us ill. Nevertheless, our immune system cannot tell the difference between a ‘real’ bacteria and an ‘artificial’ one, and it is then fooled into believing that we are under germ attack. As with real germs, the immune system creates an immulogical memory of the germs in the vaccine and the next time we are faced with attacks from the real germs, we are already protected as our bodies have become immune to them.

The first vaccine was made by Dr Edward Jenner in 1970s for smallpox, a deadly disease that was killing thousands in the European nations. Since then, various other vaccines have been created, saving millions of children from infectious and potentially deadly diseases.

Vaccines for children

Many common diseases are no longer as virulent and dangerous as before as more people worldwide get vaccinated. However, that does not mean you can skip your child’s vaccination, as diseases are getting more easily communicable with the large number of travellers moving around.

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What to expect

After being vaccinated, some babies may develop a fever. Your doctor will provide you with child paracetamol to relieve your baby’s fever. The fever will usually subside on its own by the second day.

Your baby may cry more and feel miserable for the first two days as the injection site may be swollen and painful. Handle baby with care and ensure he does not scratch the spot so that it will heal quickly.

Very rarely, there would be more serious side effects such as allergic reactions, high fever or behavioural changes. Bring your child immediately to the doctor if your child shows post-vaccine symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, hoarseness, hives, paleness, fast heartbeat, dizziness or swelling of the throat.

Developments in vaccines

Newer combination vaccines such as that for diphtheria, tetanus and polio (DTPa) and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) also offer fewer side effects.

When NOT to vaccinate

Do not get your baby vaccinated if he:

  • is having a fever
  • has had a bad reaction to another immunisation
  • has allergies such as to eggs or starch
  • has a history of fits
  • is undergoing treatment for cancer
  • has a bleeding or immune system disorder
  • is taking any other drug

Inform the doctor of your baby’s condition and seek further advice.

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