Immunisation programs across the world are designed to keep children safe and free of major life threatening disease. Once a baby has been immunised their body is better able to fight the disease if they come in contact with it. Immunisations do not get approved unless the benefits of protection outweigh any potential side effects (which tend to be transient and rare).
Immunisation programmes vary in their timing of the various immunisations but, in general, all major countries give the same basic immunisations. Here in Cayman most children will follow the Cayman Island schedule but your paediatrician will be happy to offer advice and follow a different schedule if better suited to your child. The vaccination programme in Cayman starts from birth.
How do immunisations work?
Vaccines consist of a small part of the bacterium or virus that causes a disease or the chemicals that the bacterium produces. When vaccinated, a baby’s immune system produces antibodies against these vaccine or pathogen components. If your baby or child then comes into contact with the disease, the antibodies in their body recognise the infection and produce a fighting response, thus protecting your child.
Why are children vaccinated so early?
The diseases we vaccinate against, such as whopping cough, pneumococcus and rotavirus, are particularly nasty and sometimes fatal if caught young. Although babies receive some protection from their mother in the last few weeks of pregnancy, this protection tends to wear off by 2 to 3 months of age. If your baby is born pre-tem, it is particularly important not to delay their vaccines as they are more at risk than babies born at the normal time.
Why do children receive multiple vaccines against the same infection?
The aim of the vaccination programme is to ensure that your child develops lifelong immunity. The aim of the immunisation programme is to ensure that your child develops sufficient antibodies against a problem that, whatever their age, if they come into contact with the actual infection they will develop an appropriate immune response. This is why for some infections, such as tetanus, your child will continue to receive boosters even as a teenager.
Why do I need to immunise my child if some of these diseases have almost disappeared?
The infections protected against by the use of immunisations are only kept at bay by a high uptake of immunisations. In some countries in the world, many children continue to die from the various infections that immunisation programmes protect against. In fact, over 5 million children under the age of 5 years die each year from infections which can be vaccinated against. A very good example of this closer to home is measles. When a population, for whatever reason, does not buy into the importance of immunisation, and the immunisation rate falls, the incidence of disease increases and unfortunately some children will die as a result of infection. In a country such as Cayman, where there are many visitors and a very diverse multiethnic population, disease can be spread by other people who have not been immunised. In these cases, it is the smallest babies who are the most vulnerable.
How do I know these vaccines are safe?
Before a vaccine can be given to the general population, it is thoroughly researched and tested to ensure it is both safe and effective. When a new vaccine is introduced, the safety of the vaccine continues to be monitored through world-wide reporting systems. Any rare side effects that are discovered can then be assessed further.
What are the side effects of vaccines?
Most babies will cry briefly when they receive their vaccine but should settle rapidly with a cuddle. It is important that you, as a parent, keep calm as even your small baby will pick up on your anxieties and tensions.
Each different vaccine & immunisation has its own set of effects e.g. some transient redness at an injection site, and these tend to be minor and temporary. Your paediatrician will be able to tell you about the different vaccines and their profiles.
The following information sites provide further information. You will find though that every country has a different schedule! If at all unsure, please ask your paediatrician!
https://www.cdc.gov/parents-guide/ American CDC Guidelines
http://www.immunizebc.ca/sites/default/files/graphics/pgi-gpv-eng.pdf Canadian Parents Guide from BC
https://www.nhs.uk/parents-guide UK NHS Guide up to 13 months
http://www.gov.ky/portal/page/portal/cighome/find/organisations/azagencies/phe/immunizationschedule Cayman Islands Immunisation Schedule