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The science behind vaccinations

baby vaccinations

We all hate putting our children through any pain, but when it comes to protecting them from some pretty scary diseases, it is the least we can do for them.

Our children are constantly exposed to many different viruses, bacteria and other microbes from the time they are born. Most are not harmful, some are beneficial but a few can cause disease. The body’s immune system helps protect us against these harmful infections. When we are exposed to infection, the immune system triggers a series of responses to neutralize the microbes and limit their harmful effects.

When the body is infected with a microbe (virus, bacterium, parasite or fungus), it stimulates the production of important immune cells. After recovery from a disease, some of the immune cells will remember these microbes. This is called immunological memory. Next time the body is exposed to the same type of microbe, the immune system will recognise it. The body’s defense against the disease becomes faster and more powerful and can prevent the person from becoming ill. This is called naturally acquired active immunity.

While we can develop immunity to some diseases on our own, there are others that may lead to serious complications and even death. The aim of vaccines are to obtain this immunity without the risk of having the disease in the first place.

During vaccination, a weakened microbe, a fragment, or something that resembles it, is added to the body. The immune system is then activated  without us becoming sick. For some diseases, vaccination provides lifelong protection, while for others the effect is diminished after a few years and booster doses are required.

While in the womb, our baby’s immune system is already prepared to tackle various microbes that they will encounter after birth. Since vaccines only use a small part of a child’s immune capacity, the immune system is strained much less than with common infections, such as a cold. Infants therefore tolerate vaccination well, including receiving several vaccinations at the same time.

Herd immunity

When the majority of the population has been vaccinated against a disease, there won’t be many people left to get the disease. This protects the few who have not, or could not, be vaccinated. With the help of vaccination, it is possible to entirely eradicate some diseases worldwide, like smallpox.

Before vaccination

Before vaccination, the medical professional will ask if the child is healthy and if they have had reactions to earlier vaccines. Remember to inform them if your child has an allergy or other health problems, or if the child has recently received medicine.

It is important not to give your child any medication (such as pain or fever medication) before their vaccines, as this can later affect the vaccine itself. Vaccinating a child who has a cold or is slightly sick is not dangerous.  However, if they have been suffering with temperatures over 38˚C, then the vaccinations will be postponed.

It is within your right to enquire as to whether the cold chain supply has been broken at the clinic or hospital that your child is receiving their vaccinations.  Vaccines have to be temperature controlled, and if the clinic does not have a backup generator and there has been an electricity outage, the vaccines themselves could have been compromised.

After vaccination

Most children have little or no reaction after vaccinations. Here are some possible side-effects to watch out for:

  • Redness, swelling and pain at the injection site occur and can last for a few days.
  • Mild fever, restlessness, crying, sleepiness, feeling unwell or a lack of appetite occurs in up to one in ten children after vaccination. A fever greater than 39 ˚C is uncommon.
  • Very rarely a child may have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, as they could have with any medication, if this happens contact your doctor to discuss the course of action.

Toptots Early Learning SA

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