HEALTHY LIVING:

CHILDHOOD IMMUNISATION
Immunisations protect your child from potentially fatal diseases. Learn more on the type of vaccines your child can benefit from, and some of the common misconceptions about immunisations.
Article contributed by Dr June Tan & Dr Cheong Siew Meng, Unity Family Medicine Clinic

Childhood immunisation provides protection against various diseases which can lead to lifelong complications and can occasionally be fatal. In Singapore, immunisations for diphtheria and measles are compulsory by law.

IMMUNISATION FOR CHILDREN

The National Immunisation Registry ensures that all children have their vaccinations at the appropriate time. It begins with Hepatitis and BCG vaccination at birth followed by vaccination for diphtheria, polio, tetanus, haemophilus influenza, pneumococcal, measles, mumps and rubella based on the immunisation schedule.

OPTIONAL VACCINES

Some optional vaccines that you may consider for your children are:

1. Rotavirus vaccination.
It is usually administered orally in 2 doses in the first 4 months of life. Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhoea in young children.

2. Varicella vaccination.
It is a vaccination that is given to prevent chicken pox. It is best given between 12-18 months of age with 2 doses given 3 months apart.

3. Influenza (flu) vaccination.

It is recommended for children above the age of 6 months and children who are susceptible to serious complications of flu such as children with a weakened immune system, blood disorders, chronic metabolic conditions, kidney, heart or lung problems. It is given annually as the flu viruses keep changing. It takes about 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to be effective, vaccination should be given before the peak flu season starts. In Singapore, the season is generally from December and February, and May to June.

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT IMMUNISATION

1. Vaccines cause many harmful side effects and even death. They should therefore be avoided.

Vaccines are actually very safe. Most adverse effects are minor and temporary, such as soreness in the injection site and mild fever. Serious adverse effects are rare. The risk of harm of not getting vaccinated (and therefore catching the disease) far outweighs the risks of adverse effects.

2. Vaccine-preventable diseases have been virtually eliminated from Singapore; hence there is no need for vaccinations.

While it is true that vaccination has reduced many vaccine-preventable diseases to low levels in Singapore, these diseases may be still common in other parts of the world. Travellers coming into Singapore may bring in these diseases or we may contract them when we travel abroad. These diseases could easily spread and cause widespread infection and harm in Singapore if the population is not vaccinated. Vaccination therefore protects us, and also our loved ones by not contracting and spreading the disease to others.

3. Vaccination is not necessary, as most diseases have been eradicated by better hygiene and sanitation.

While better living conditions and hygiene standards have undoubtedly had an indirect impact on disease such as lowering transmission, individuals are still vulnerable to diseases if they are not vaccinated. Vaccination is still the most effective way of disease prevention.

4. Taking more than one vaccine at a time can increase the risk of harmful side effects and can overload the immune system.

Studies have shown that giving more than one vaccines at a time is just as effective and does not increase the risk of harmful side effects. In fact, giving several vaccinations at a time may be practically advantageous as it provides early protection to multiple diseases at the same time, and also reduces the number of visits to the doctor for vaccinations. These considerations are especially important for gaining broad protection early, while at the same time, saving time and money due to reduced visits. It may also be less traumatic for the child as the numbers of injections is reduced with combination vaccines (i.e. 5 in 1, 6 in 1 combination vaccines).

5. The majority of people who get disease have been vaccinated, so it is pointless to get vaccination.

Vaccines are highly effectively, but they do not guarantee 100% results. 85% to 95% of persons who are vaccinated develop immunity, but a small number (5 to 15%) do not and are therefore at risk of catching the disease even after vaccination. However, it should be recognised that being unvaccinated will leave an almost 100% chance of catching the disease.