June 19, 2010

Vaccines: Benefits and Risks of Childhood Vaccination

Children generally do not have their immunity developed to its full potential, so vaccines are a safe and effective way to ensure their immunity against a number of potentially serious diseases.

The facts

At birth, babies have a certain amount of natural protection against disease in the form of antibodies from their mothers, but this protection does not last past the first year of life. Young children, therefore, are at risk for a number of diseases which can prove to be serious, or even fatal.

Fortunately, most countries offer access, ofttimes free access, to various vaccines and vaccination programs that can immunize their children against immunizable diseases like polio, measles, mumps, tuberculosis, whooping cough, diphtheria and many others.

The concept of vaccination / immunization

Simply put, vaccination (or immunization) means the inoculation of a person or animal with a vaccine to produce immunity to a disease. It is a form of preventive, as against curative, medicine with the primary aim of protecting individuals and communities from infectious diseases by preparing their body to fight against future infections. Thus, life and huge sums of money are saved.

It is based on the presumption that once you have had a disease, you are unlikely to contract it again i.e. the body has to be exposed to infection once for the immune system to recognize it. This may be true of many diseases like varicella and smallpox, but definitely not so of some others.

How vaccination works

Injections, oral drops or scratches on the skin introduce dead, weakened, or purified components of disease-producing microorganisms or toxins into the body, stimulating production of antibodies and antitoxins. Thereafter, when the body becomes exposed to that infection, the immune system "recognizes" it, and produce antibodies or antitoxins to destroy that infection.

Childhood immunization thus helps the child's immune system build up resistance to disease by enabling it store information about how to respond and produce particular antibodies, if the child is exposed to that same microorganism in the future.

Benefits and risks of childhood vaccination

It is worth emphasizing that the advantages and benefits of vaccinating a child far outweighs the disadvantages and risks. The popular argument is that there is no reason to suffer from a disease if there is a safe and effective way to prevent it.

The diseases that vaccines fight are serious, and ofttimes life-threatening. Diseases like polio, diphtheria, measles, and whooping cough can lead to paralysis, pneumonia, choking, brain damage, heart problems, and even death in children who are not protected.

Many children have minor and temporary reactions like pain or some swelling at the point of injection if the vaccine is injected, while others may develop a mild fever. Only very rarely and with some vaccines would permanent damage or other serious side effects like severe allergic reactions, with or without fatal consequences, occur.

Precautions before vaccinations

Just like every other thing in life, precautions should be taken before vaccinating your child. Make sure s/he is in good health before taking her for a shot and report any side effects to the doctor immediately. Remember that the advantages of immunization far outweigh its drawbacks. It is thanks to immunization that a disease like small pox has been eradicated.

Also read: Abnormal body temperatures and febrile convulsion

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