According to the Recommended Immunisation Schedule for Persons 0 – 6 years of age, children could be given up to 24 vaccinations to guard them from up to 14 diseases by the time they are 2-years-old. This number of vaccines could increase even further if you plan to travel with your baby to a foreign area or country.
Vaccines are recommended for very young children because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. In addition, their stomachs produce less acid, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to multiply. These reasons make babies more susceptible to the devastating effects of these preventable — yet serious diseases.
Thanks to medical research advances, most of these previously life-threatening diseases are now close to extinction. Immunisation poses little or no risk for most children. However, if you are unsure, discuss this with your doctor. Always keep a current record of your child’s immunisations. That way, if your child has missed any, you can let the doctor know, so your child can “catch up.”
Consider this before travelling
It is very important that parents check which jabs they need to get for themselves and their baby before travelling. Since some countries are more compromised than others, parents need to consult a Disease Control Center or health care provider. It is preferable to consult with one specialising in travel medicine. Doctors are best placed to help parents decide which immunisations are needed for baby. This is based on several factors including:
- where you’re traveling to,
- what kind of traveling you’ll be doing,
- the age and health of your child as well as,
- how long will you be visiting, which can make a big difference.
Diseases such as small pox, polio, diphtheria and pertussis have disappeared from the United States — but this does not mean that one should bypass vaccines as break-outs may occur unexpectedly. Developing countries on the other hand, still lag behind, as some of these diseases remain a reality.
Start scheduling the necessary vaccination shots at least 4-6 weeks before embarking on your trip. This allows enough time for the vaccine to kick-in. This also gives parents enough time to observe whether their baby has an allergic reaction to the medicines. While this is highly unlikely – there may be some swelling and redness in the area in which the shot was given.
Getting your baby vaccinated helps to build his immune system, and gives him a fighting chance against diseases which could ultimately lead to death.
To minimise your baby’s pain, apply an anesthetic (a cream that causes temporary numbness) an hour before your baby gets the needle. You may choose to use other distraction methods or give baby some sugar water to calm him down.
To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
Not all parents agree that vaccinations are important. This might be due to religious or personal reasons. However not getting your child vaccinated may put him at risk.
Some countries do not allow visitors to enter their country without having had the necessary vaccines. This may be one of their visa regulations or procedures. While several parents decide not to immunise their children as they feel it’s not necessary — experts say this view is due to the success of vaccinations.
“It’s the natural evolution of a vaccine programme,” says Paul Offit, M.D., chief of infectious diseases and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“Many diseases are out of sight and then out of mind. So people don’t see the value of vaccines,” says M.D Kathryn Edwards, spokesperson for the national Network for Immunisation Information. “As you eliminate the diseases, people are not as compelled to get the vaccines,” adds Edwards.
Parents can rest assured, knowing that vaccines are carefully reviewed by doctors, scientists and health care professionals who have years of experience.
When to plan your trip with baby
Parents should not plan trips with baby until he is at least 2-months-old. This is because baby’s natural immunity to illness received from their mother begins to wear-off if vaccines are given before this age. Your baby’s natural immunity to disease may stop the vaccine from working — which will leave your child in the red.
Parents can also speed up immunisations by scheduling them a week apart. Doing this can shorten intervals between doses. It is also important to receive these vaccines in your home country before travelling.
Vaccinations you will need when travelling as well as those in the immunisation schedule:
Meningitis (pneumococcal and meningococcal): Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membrane covering the brain and spinal cord. It’s spread by person to person contact, it can be fatal and may cause serious disability such as deafness, brain damage or impaired vision.
Rotavirus Gastroenteritis: Causes diarrhea and is administered to children under the age of 3.
Japanese Encephalitus: Transmitted by mosquito in most parts of Asia. Between 10-25% of those who have it will die and 50% will have permanent neurological damage.
Diphtheria: Mainly affects the throat and spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms include a sore throat, a high temperature and breathing difficulties. A severe case can cause damage to the heart and nervous system or even death.
Tetanus: This is a usually fatal disease which can cause painful spasms of muscle contractions. It is caused by bacteria found in soil and animal manure or transmitted after an animal bite. It can enter the body through a cut or a wound.
Malaria: The vaccine is safe and protective in those most vulnerable to the disease such as infants less than 1 years old. The mosquito-borne disease is especially hard to fight because it is caused by a parasite, not a virus or bacteria. Symptoms of Malaria in babies include irritability, fever, sweating or chills, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and convulsions.
Yellow Fever: The vaccine is not recommended for babies under 9 months old. It is a serious disease caused by a virus. For some people it presents itself through flu-like symptoms which ultimately improve. However, for other people it causes symptoms of high fever, vomiting, jaundice and bleeding which can be fatal. There is no cure for yellow fever. It’s passed to humans by bites from infected mosquitoes.
Pertussis: This is highly infectious. It is spread through coughing and sneezing. It starts as a cold and then develops into something much more serious. It may even lead to pneumonia, vomiting, weight loss and, more rarely, brain damage and death.
Polio: Is a viral disease that can affect nerves. It can lead to partial or full paralysis. The virus spreads by direct person-to-person contact or contact with infected faeces. Symptoms include: a headache, sore red throat, slight fever or vomiting.
Busted vaccination myths
Myth 1: Large numbers of vaccines will overpower my child’s immune system
This is not true as a child can receive as much as 24 shots by the time they are 2-years-old. A child’s body is constantly fighting off immunological challenges unfamiliar to their bodies.
Myth 2: My child is automatically protected since other children are getting vaccinated
All children need to be vaccinated as outbreaks can occur at any time.
Myth 3: Vaccines cause disorders such as autism
There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that this is true. In fact, there have been 14 studies that show your risk of getting autism isn’t any different if you got the MMR vaccine or if you didn’t.
Myth 4: The vaccine will give my child the disease it’s meant to prevent
There’s no risk of contracting diseases from a shot. “A few vaccines that are on the schedule do, however, contain live weakened virus to provoke an immune response. These include the MMR and chicken pox immunisations. “These vaccines have the potential to cause some mild illness – a little fever and rash,” explains Dr. Edwards. “But the illness is much less severe than if a child naturally contracted measles or chicken pox.”
Myth 5: Vaccines contain dangerous preservatives
Data does not show any association between substances and neurological problems.
Myth 6: The vaccine wont work if my child is sick
It might appear reasonable to think so but studies show that having a mild illness doesn’t affect a child’s ability to react appropriately to the vaccine.
Myth 7: Vaccines provide 100 percent protection against disease
Most vaccines are about 95 percent effective. That means there’s a chance you could be vaccinated against a disease and still get it.
Remember that prevention is better than cure. Find out what your options are and make the best decision for your baby. Make sure that the visit is unforgettable for all the right reasons.