In the UK we start vaccinating our babies at 2 months. They then follow a schedule that continues all the way through childhood and believe it or not goes on until they are 70 years old. The best place to find the most up-to-date and comprehensive guide to the current immunisations schedule. Lots of people, very naturally have many questions about vaccines, I hope that this answers some of them.
1. Will my baby’s immune system cope?
The most common concern that parents have about vaccinating their baby when they are so young is that their body is not strong enough to cope. From the moment your baby is born it is being bombarded by thousands and thousands of viruses and bacteria and the body copes amazingly well. We are only vaccinating babies against eleven infections. By the end of the first week your baby’s skin, throat, nose and intestine are covered by thousands of different bacteria and viruses. The vaccines contain weakened or killed bugs so they are not causing the disease, they are just simulating the immune system.
2. What are the side effects?
There are common reactions- redness, tenderness and swelling around the area that the injection was given. These can be soothed with paracetamol and a cuddle. They may also be irritable. A temperature is also common especially on day 2-3 after the vaccines. You can treat this with paracetamol +/- ibuprofen.
In extremely rare cases, one in one million vaccines given, a baby may have an extreme reaction, an anaphylaxis reaction. You may notice a rash and itching. They may have difficulty breathing. The health professionals will know exactly what to do. This is treatable with prompt administrations of medications.
3. Can my baby go swimming before their vaccines?
4. What if my baby is ill on the day of the appointment?
A mild illness does not stop your baby from having the vaccines, however if your baby has temperature then you should reschedule the appointment.
5. How will I know when to get my baby vaccinated? What if I miss an appointment?
When your baby is born you need to register you baby at your GP’s surgery. Once this is done you will automatically receive an appointment.
If you miss the appointment then you should ideally get another appointment as soon as possible. There is some flexibility in the timings of these early injections.
6. Can I refuse to vaccinate my baby?
Yes, as a parent you have this right.
Please do make sure that you have chatted to your GP or health visitor in order to make sure that you have all the facts. This is a huge decision and indeed can affect many more children than just your own. In this country we are seeing a huge increase in measles and mumps, this is because there was a scare that the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine was linked to autism, so many children were not vaccinated- it has been thoroughly looked into by many different teams of doctors and scientists and shown that there is definitely no link between the MMR vaccine and autism, thank goodness. This percentage of the population who are unvaccinated have put pressure on the “herd immunity” theory (provided enough of a population are vaccinated then the disease can’t cause an epidemic). We are seeing a worrying large number of children affected by these diseases.
7. My baby has an allergy, should they be vaccinated?
Yes they should. There is no reason that a baby with hayfever, asthma, eczema, nut allergy, food intolerances, coeliac’s disease, cow’s milk protein intolerance should not have the vaccinations. The only time to be cautious is if your infant has an egg allergy and they are having a live vaccine (MMR, flu vaccine, yellow fever vaccine).
There are a few instances when a baby should not be immunised. Vaccines should not be given to babies who have had;
A confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine
A confirmed anaphylactic reaction to neomycin, streptomycin or polymixin B- these are antibiotics used in the vaccines.
Special medical advice is needed if your child has a reduced or suppressed immune system.
8. What about the chicken pox vaccine?
This vaccine is routine the USA however is not part of the UK’s vaccination schedule. It is available privately.
9. When should I vaccinate my premature baby?
Premature babies need to have their vaccinations at exactly the same timings as a term baby. Therefore when they are 8 weeks old from their birthday, not their corrected age (this is the age that babies are given if they were born early, it takes off the weeks that they were premature and takes their age from their expected birth date). Postponing the vaccinations until they are older leaves them at unnecessary risk of infection. Their immune system may not have had the full boost from your immune factors. Some of your immunity crosses the placenta earlier but most transfers across from 36 weeks of pregnancy.
10. What about the immunity that I gave my baby through the placenta and breast feeding?
The majority of your immune factors cross the placenta from 36 weeks of pregnancy. They then stay in your baby’s system for between two to three months, they can last for up to six months.
Click here for all the up-to-date information.
DR ANASTASIA ALCOCK
MRCPCH MBBS BSc(Hons) DTM&H DPID DRCOG