April 24th – 30th marks International Immunization week. This is a time to really celebrate how far we have come in such a short space of time.
It is difficult for us to comprehend the devastation that used to occur before these “childhood diseases” were, for the most part, eradicated by the discovery and development of vaccines.
In most of our grandparent’s time, children regularly died or were left permanently maimed, by diseases like polio. The first polio vaccination programme only started in the 1950s and today the World Health Organization reports that 86% of infants around the world now receive 3 doses of the vaccine. This translates to the eradication of polio in most countries, which is an amazing achievement.
WHO (The World Health Organization) estimates that immunization currently averts an estimated 2 – 3 Million deaths every year from diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and measles. Australians are in an excellent position due to diligent vaccination programmes set up by both the Federal and State Governments.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines work by stimulating our own immune systems to produce antibodies (which are the disease fighters) to a specific disease, without infecting us. If we then come in contact with that particular disease, then our immune system will recognise it and produce these antibodies.
Some of the vaccine preventable diseases are:
- Haemophilus Influenza type b
- Hepatitis B
- Human Papillomavirus
- Yellow Fever
When human babies are born, their immune system is still very immature and they rely very much on the antibodies provided initially via the placenta and then from the breastmilk. The vaccination programme begins at six weeks and by around 12 – 18 months the baby’s immune system reaches full development.
When do we give the vaccinations?
The record of vaccinations is kept in your Baby’s Personal Health Record (The Blue Book). The first vaccination is given in the hospital, which is the first in a course of Hepatitis B Vaccine.
The next vaccinations happen at six weeks of age and they include: Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping Cough, Haemophilus influenza type B, polio, Pneumococcal and Rotavirus. Booster vaccinations are then given at 4 months, 6 months, 12 months and 18 months. You may have recently heard that the Department of Health have now added a Whooping cough (Pertussis) booster at 18months of age. This is in response to the current increasing incidence of Whooping Cough in Australia.
Why give so many in the early years?
As mentioned above human babies are quite vulnerable as newborns and they need to be vaccinated before they come into contact with the diseases.
Does vaccination cause autism?
No. Studies recently published looked at 10 studies (one that included 537,303 children) were able to confirm that vaccination could not be causing autism.
As more of the population becomes vaccinated the disease can sometimes disappear completely – this happened with smallpox. The more infectious the disease, the greater the number of people who have to be vaccinated to keep the disease under control. Measles is one of those highly infectious diseases – if the vaccination rates drop then the disease will increase in incidence again. We know that at least 90% of people need to be immune in order to stop the disease from spreading.
Is there a record kept?
Yes. The Australian Childhood Immunization Register, (ACIR) keeps a record of all the vaccinations given to children up to the age of 20 years. This register is linked to Medicare and Centrelink and many childcare benefits and rebates will not be paid if the immunizations are not up to date.
Vaccination during Pregnancy
It is recommended by the NSW Health Department that all pregnant women receive the Whooping Cough vaccine at around 28 weeks gestation. By giving it at this time, it means that your body produces antibodies that get passed on to your baby before they are born. These antibodies will protect the baby until they receive their own vaccination at six weeks. All pregnant women should also receive the Influenza vaccine during pregnancy. This can be given at anytime during the pregnancy.
What about other family members?
Anyone having contact with the baby especially in the first six weeks should also be immunized. For the general public, a booster should be given every five years.
For more helpful information on Immunization, please refer to the below websites or speak with Dr. Morris at your next visit.