If the thought of watching someone stick a needle in your baby makes you want to cry, you are not alone! It can be quite traumatic for parents (especially when their babies are tiny). However, the childhood immunisation programme is the safest way to protect your baby from some nasty viruses and diseases - not to mention the complications that may arise from them.
What is the childhood immunisation programme?
Upon the birth of your child, you'll be presented with their 'Red Book', or Personal Child Health Record. In the Immunisation section, you'll find a full run down of all the injections your child needs to have during childhood. And there are many! But the jabs will help to protect them from:
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (a bacterial infection which can lead to meningitis or pneumonia in little children)
- Pneumococcal infections (which can cause meningitis, septicaemia and pneumonia)
- Whooping cough
The immunisation programme begins when your baby is eight weeks old, with further jabs being given at 12 and 16 weeks, 12 and 13 months and then at age three. Further jabs are offered to children in their teens (including a jab against cervical cancer for girls). Some babies in higher risk areas might be offered Hepatitis B and/or BCG vaccines - and the BCG can be given as early as six weeks.
How does immunisation work and is it safe?
When we are exposed to bacteria or a virus and get an infection, our immune system kicks in and creates antibodies which, in most people, will give permanent or at least long-lasting protection against being infected by that particular bacteria or virus again.
Immunisations work by introducing very tiny amounts of certain diseases into the bloodstream, which immediately cause the immune system to create antibodies. Vaccines are such diluted forms of the diseases that they do not make us ill - we get the benefits of our clever immune systems, without getting the illness itself. Who said there's no gain without pain?
Some of the vaccines babies have are combined vaccines. For example, protection against diptheria, tetanus and whooping cough is given in one jab (the DtaP/IPV/Hib) – and often more than one injection will be given at once.
However, this is no cause for concern. Your baby's body will not become overloaded by having more than one vaccine (even combined vaccines) in one sitting. The immunisations your child will receive are completely safe - including the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella).
The vaccine was the subject of a long-lasting health scare after a medical paper, written in 1998, linked it with autism. That paper was written by Dr Andrew Wakefield and was published in the highly regarded medical journal, The Lancet. The result was a sharp drop off in the number of people giving their children the vaccine, and a subsequent rise in measles cases. After many years, the paper was finally discredited: medical experts the world over had disagreed with its contents; Wakefield was found by the General Medical Council to have acted dishonestly; and, in 2010, The Lancet issued a full retraction.
Your surgery may allow you to request separate vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella - but numerous medical studies since the Wakefield study have shown there is no link between the MMR and autism and the consensus is that the vaccine is safe.
Will the jabs make my child feel poorly?
While your baby won't develop the disease they are being protected from, the injections might make them feel under the weather. Obviously their arm or leg will be a bit sore (and a BCG jab, which protects against tuberculosis will swell and look rather nasty for a while), so you should be careful when picking them up not to touch them on the sore spot for a day or two.
Some children might also develop a mild fever, and feel a bit achy and grouchy. The correct dose of liquid paracetamol or ibuprofen will help with this, along with lots of cuddles and a good sleep.
If your baby or child becomes ill on the day they are due to have their jabs, you might need to make a new appointment. Most nurses will continue with the vaccination if a child has a mild cough or cold, but will ask you to reschedule if they are showing signs of a fever.
If you have concerns about any immunisations, including the MMR, whether before or after your child has had them, speak to your doctor or health visitor.
If you do not yet have a Red Book, you can see the full list of childhood immunisations on the NHS website.
More on Parentdish:
Spot the signs of chickenpox
Debate and opinion on Parentdish: Why I think it's selfish not to immunise your child