The facts on childhood immunization

Good health is the foundation upon which individuals and families build long, healthy lives. When unburdened by sickness and disease, children can attend school, and their parents can work and build a future for their families. After food, shelter and clean drinking water, immunization against infectious diseases was the most important advance in Public Health in the last century.

A hundred years ago, infectious diseases were the world’s leading cause of death. Epidemics of smallpox and diphtheria would wreak havoc in towns and cities and take the lives of millions of people without warning. In 1974, only about five per cent of the world’s children had access to vaccines. A global effort was launched in the early 1980s to provide six vaccines (Polio, tuberculosis, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis and measles) to 80 per cent of the children worldwide. Currently, immunizations save more than three million lives each year – about 10,000 lives a day – and protect millions more from illness and permanent disability.

While developing countries struggle to get vaccines to children who desperately want them, industrialized countries are facing a different challenge. Many people in North America and Europe have become complacent about vaccines, assuming that since certain diseases rarely appear, they are no longer a threat. Others fear that the vaccine itself is more dangerous than the disease.

These misconceptions have caused a resurgence of highly contagious diseases such as measles, diphtheria and pertussis. The recent outbreak of measles and mumps in the UK, India and the US has further highlighted this problem.

Hepatitis B vaccine

Hepatitis B is an infection of the liver which is caused by a virus and can result in liver damage or failure. If baby doesn’t receive the vaccine in the hospital, this vaccination should be given within the first two months. Two additional doses are recommended within the baby’s first 18 months.

The BCG vaccine

According to the World Health Organisation there has been a reemergence of tuberculosis in the Caribbean. Although there have only been a few reported cases in the Cayman Islands in recent years, the WHO has advised the Cayman Islands to include the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis into the immunization schedule.

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by a bacterium, Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The infection primarily attacks the lungs. The bacterium is so destructive that it is common to cough and expectorate both blood and mucous. Those under five years old are susceptible to a very severe form of TB (called ‘miliary’ TB) that spreads to many parts of the body, including the lining of the brain (meninges), and is often fatal.

The MMR vaccine

Measles, mumps and rubella are serious diseases, which can lead to ear infections, pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, meningitis and in some cases death. Most children who get their MMR shots will not get these diseases. However, many more children will get them if we stop vaccinating against them.

The DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine

DTaP/IPV/Hib is a primary immunization given to babies when they are two, four and six months old. The DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine protects against five different diseases: Diphtheria (D), Tetanus (T), Pertussiss (Whooping Cough) (P), Polio (IPV – inactivated polio vaccine) and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b).

Boosters of DTap/IPV/Hib are also recommended at 15 months and between four and five years of age. A further booster of Diphtheria and Tetanus is also recommended at 14 years of age.

The Varicella (Chicken Pox) vaccine

This vaccine protects against chicken pox, a viral infection which is highly contagious and results in a blister-like rash that is very itchy. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children receive the varicella vaccine between the ages of 12 and 19 months.

The Meningitis C vaccine

Men C vaccine protects against infection by the meningococcal group C bacteria. Meningococcal group C is a type of bacteria that can cause meningitis and septicaemia. The Men C vaccine does not protect against meningitis caused by other bacteria or by viruses.

Men C is a primary immunization given to babies when they are two, four and six months old. Three doses are given to make sure that your child’s body can develop a good immune response to the disease. In some countries, such as Canada and Australia, the vaccine is given at 12 months of age only. This is due to the fact that the risk of contracting the disease is lower in these countries. Men C is also available to everyone under 25. While the risk of the disease is generally low in adults, there is a greater risk for college students aged 18 to 24. If you are in this age group and have had the new Men C vaccine before, at school or higher education, you will not need to have the vaccine again.

Prevnar – Heptavalent Conjugate Pneumococcal (PSV) vaccine.

This vaccine protects your child against the pneumococcal bacteria which can cause meningitis, pneumonia and serious infections in a child’s brain, blood stream and ears. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the vaccine be administered at two months, four months, six months and between 12 and 16 months of age.

The Influenza vaccine

The influenza vaccine is commonly known as the flu shot. The flu is more serious than the common cold and can be very dangerous in young children, especially those with certain medical conditions. For this reason the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children six months of age or older with certain risk factors receive the influenza vaccine yearly. If you are unsure as to whether your child should receive this vaccine, consult your child’s doctor.

The Combination MMRV

This is a new vaccine which combines the Measles, Mumps and Rubella Vaccine, with the Chicken Pox (Varicella) Vaccine. This vaccine can be given from 12 months onwards.

The Rotavirus

Rotavirus most often infects infants and young children, aged three months to two years, it is one of the most common causes of diarrhea. The vaccine can be given to infants as a liquid during regular vaccinations at age two months, four months, and six months.

FYI

For further information contact either Rebekah Brooks or Dr. Gordon Smith on 345-949 2970 or your local Public Health Centre.

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