Is immunisation important?

By S Wicks, R Rifaie, Kids Health Child Health Promotion Unit, Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Diphtheria, whooping cough (Pertussis), polio, measles, mumps, German measles (Rubella), tetanus were words that struck fear in parents in the past. They were diseases that made babies and young children very sick and often resulted in death or permanent impairment. 

The development of vaccines to combat these diseases has made a huge difference in lives lost or lived with ongoing impairment.

Universal immunisation programs have meant that over time, more and more of the population have immunity to these diseases. Immunisation protects individuals and communities.

The World Health Organisation estimates that immunisation currently prevents 2 – 3 million deaths a year worldwide and that a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global vaccine coverage improved.

What are vaccines?
Vaccines stimulate the immune system to fight off diseases. They usually made from weakened or inactive samples of the disease which will allow the immune system to recognise and fight off the disease without severe or life threatening symptoms.

What does immunisation do?
Stimulating the ability of the body to fight a particular disease helps prevent that person from getting the disease, or if they do happen to get it, it is much less severe. When more people in a community are immunised for the same diseases, less people get those diseases, so more people are protected. This is called Herd Immunity. A high ‘herd immunity’ is incredibly important for protecting children who are too young to be immunised and those who cannot be immunised due to illness or other medical condition.

Unintended outcomes
A very small number of children may experience an allergic reaction after an immunisation. This is usually a reaction to a small amount of egg protein that is in many, but not all, vaccines. It’s estimated that less than 1 person in a million will experience an allergic reaction to a vaccine.

Myths about Immunisation
Autism
Scientific evidence from a number of studies has shown that there is no link between MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine and autism. Don’t be misled by articles you read on the internet and social media as these are not reliable and could leave your baby at risk of contracting severe illness!

Is immunisation important?
Absolutely yes, it protects individuals, families, communities and specifically those who are too young or too sick already to be immunised from catching these deadly diseases. Without the people around them being immunised, these children are at greater risk of contracting these potentially fatal diseases.

If you have any concerns about immunisations, please discuss with your doctor or another health professional.

You might like to read Defeating the Ministers of Death by Professor David Isaacs which is about the history of immunisation and is available from the Kids Health Bookshop.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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