When you visit your baby’s doctor for the first time, he or she educates you about the vaccines your child would need. The thought of so many painful injections every few weeks/months hurting your precious baby is heart breaking. But what you ought to know is that vaccines are really important for the health of your child. Let’s see why they are important and discuss the other things you should know about the immunization schedule.
Our body has a natural immunity
We have miracle-fighters called antibodies which recognize anything that is ‘foreign’ to our body and destroy it. What’s even more awesome is how the immune system then ‘remembers’ these enemies and destroys them everytime they attack, thus conferring what is called ‘immunity’ to the particular disease. The baby’s immunity is further enhanced by the mother’s breast milk in the first 4-6 months of life.
Then why give vaccines?
Giving vaccines for different diseases confers what is called ‘acquired immunity’ to the disease in the way described above. Some of the diseases like polio, TB, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Measles, Hepatitis B which can be deadly in children can be prevented with vaccines.
In public health practice, vaccination is given to confer community protection so that even unimmunized children will have a reduced risk of getting the disease. This is called as the ‘herd effect’ of immunization.
What vaccines are available and what diseases are they effective against?
Vaccines recommended by the Government and available at Government hospitals at reduced costs include:
- BCG vaccine (mandatory) – Given as an intradermal injection soon after birth; prevents TB. Can cause a raised area at the site of the injection, do not apply any medicine to the site.
- OPV vaccine (mandatory) – Given orally as several doses till the age of five, this prevents polio. Poliomyelitis is a disease which affects the nerves causing muscle weakness and paralysis. It is given free of cost to all children below five years of age under the Pulse Polio programme.
DPT vaccine (mandatory) – Given as an intradermal injection, it prevents three diseases (Diphtheria, Pertrussis and Tetanus).
a. Diphtheria is an infection which starts with a ‘sore throat’ but can rapidly lead to formation of toxins (poisons) causing life-threatening complications.
b. Pertrussis (whooping cough) affects the lungs in children below 15 months of age. Starting with cold and cough, it progresses to episodes of coughs with a ‘whoop’. Complications include pneumonia, brain damage and death.
c. Tetanus starts when a wound is infected with bacteria found in soil, it affects the body’s muscles and nerves. The toxin produced by the bacteria causes muscle spasms, interferes with nerves and can be fatal.
- Measles vaccine (mandatory)– The vaccine is given subcutaneously (just below the skin) as the baby completes nine months. A very contagious viral infection, measles starts as cold and cough with rashes progressing from the hairline downwards. It can progress to diarrhoea, pneumonia, infection of the brain leading to death, if untreated.
The immunization schedule as per the Universal Immunization Programme in India: