Immunisation - Separating Facts from Fiction!

Vaccines have been proven safe and used across the world for decades. So, why are we still scared? #KnowYourVaccines

If you’re a new parent and your paediatrician has recently told you of the list of vaccinations your child needs, then you must read this. In the face of overwhelming medical proof that immunisation is a necessary step to safeguard your child, well-meaning yet uninformed relatives will sometimes tell you all sorts of unfounded horror stories. The World Health Organisation defines these ‘anti-vax’ parties or vaccine hesitancy as “a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services.” It also rightly suggests that “it is influenced by factors such as complacency, convenience and confidence.”

Here are 5 times you need to not listen to your elders and the propaganda and get your facts straight instead.

Myth #1: Vaccines have serious side effects!

Most vaccine-related side-effects are seen in infants and very young children. These include mild swelling, redness, a small hard lump at the site where it was administered and sometimes a fever.

These usually last for no more than a couple of days. Sometimes, for example, the first shot of Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) can cause a fever leading to a seizure in an estimated one in 3,000 cases. While this can be frightening, you must remember that up to 5% of young children are generally prone to seizure when they have a high fever. These kinds of seizures don’t result in any permanent brain damage.

Myth #2: Getting a vaccine is the same as giving yourself the disease.

Vaccines are built to contain a weakened or dead form of the disease-causing germ called antigens. These are lab-grown, isolated and then added to preservatives, stabilizers and a substance to trigger the immune system to vigorously respond. Exposing the body to this pathogen voluntarily helps the body build up its immunity in a controlled manner by letting the body kill this weakened infection at the site of the administration itself. Vaccines are successful because once this interaction takes place, the immune system creates infection fighters called memory cells that circulate through the system and are now equipped to defend the body from that same pathogen in the future.

Myth #3: Vaccines are unsafe because they have side-effects.

While it is true that there is no way to be 100% certain if someone will react to being immunised, it’s good to remember that all medicines can have both mild and severe side-effects. It all depends on a person's DNA or genetic variation, their immune deficiencies and exposure to certain environments.

Myth #4: Taking multiple vaccines is life-threatening.

Fears about a child not being able to handle potent vaccines are incorrect as children's immune systems respond to several hundred foreign substances that trigger an immune response every single day. Vaccinations are continuously tested for efficacy and safety and to make sure they don’t interact with each other. This is why a vaccination schedule is drawn up and recommended based on when the body will best respond to it and give the child maximum protection.

Globally the Expanded Program of Immunization (EPI) started in 1974. In India, it was initially limited to Bacillus Calmette Guerin (BCG), diphtheria, tetanus toxoids, whole cell pertussis (DTwP), oral poliomyelitis, and typhoid vaccines. Today, The Indian Academy of Pediatrics recommends anywhere between 10 -15 vaccinations for all Indian children. But those with high-risk conditions like Congenital or acquired immunodeficiency including HIV and Diabetes Mellitus may have a list in addition to the basic one.

Myth #5: Children don’t need vaccines.

Very simply, vaccines save lives. In addition to protecting us from dangerous diseases like hepatitis B, cholera, and polio, they protect the population against outbreaks, can help control epidemics, limit antibiotic resistance and is our best line of defence against diseases. When enough people are vaccinated and have stronger immunity because of it, infections cannot spread from person to person easily and this also helps adults and children with compromised immunity like transplant donors and recipients and children who are too young to be vaccinated yet.

Buoyed by the eradication of smallpox and polio, India, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its SEARO member countries are now making strides forward to eliminate diseases like measles and control Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) by 2020. Even so, unfounded fear of vaccines in general means that statistics like a 2017 WHO report showing that India accounts for 60,000 of the world’s 110,000 measles deaths won’t change unless people pick consistently fact over fiction soon.