Vaccines have controlled and eradicated many childhood diseases that were once fatal. Here’s what you need to know to protect your child.

As a parent, you do your best to keep your child safe and healthy – and a basic way is to immunise them against a range of serious diseases. “Vaccinations protect infants, toddlers and children against dangerous infectious diseases and their complications,” says Dr Zaheera Kajee, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt.

How vaccinations work

Vaccinations equip a person’s immune system to fight diseases. According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), they work by inserting an active or inactive form of the virus via injection or in oral medication. This triggers an immune response from the body, which learns to recognise the virus and fend it off. If the virus is ever introduced to the body, it knows how to eradicate it.

Vaccines have been stringently tested for safety. If you still have concerns, check with your paediatrician.

Are they safe?

Aside from some mild side-effects, vaccinations are safe, says Dr Kajee, referencing the NICD’s assurance that vaccines undergo more stringent safety testing than any other medication. “Certain vaccinations are, however, contra-indicated in children with severe egg or yeast allergy as they may develop a life-threatening reaction,” she warns. “Regular paediatrician visits are therefore very important to determine if this is the case, and your paediatrician will advise accordingly.”

Common but harmless side-effects include fever, rash and local redness/irritation at the injection site, says Dr Kajee. The tuberculosis vaccine may present with a small blister at the site of administration, but this shows a healthy, strong immune response and shouldn’t be a cause for concern. Other commonly seen side-effects may include tiredness, diarrhoea, or mild vomiting.

Baby jabs

Of course, it can be a little upsetting to watch your baby have an injection but remember that vaccinations protect everyone. “By vaccinating your child, you also limit transmission of these dangerous diseases within the community. As the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure,” says Dr Kajee.

While many vaccinations are administered with a needle, some are also administered through oral drops.

Which vaccinations does my child need?

The South African Department of Health provides free immunisations to all children for polio, tetanus, hepatitis B and measles, among others. You can get other vaccines at your own cost through private healthcare providers, such as the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, meningococcal conjugated (MC) vaccine, varicella (chicken pox) and hepatitis A vaccines. “These need to be prescribed by your paediatrician,” advises Dr Kajee.

One of the vaccinations strongly recommended for girls is the HPV vaccine. “The human papilloma virus can cause cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer in women after breast cancer. It is effective only if administered before becoming sexually active,” says Dr Kajee. “There are, however, certain HPV types not included in the vaccine,” she adds. The HPV vaccine should be administered when your child turns nine years old.

I missed a vaccination! Now what?

“Vaccinations can be missed for various reasons including illness, or the unavailability of a vaccine at a certain time, among others. Missed vaccines can be caught up at the baby clinic,” says Dr Kajee.

To find a paediatrician near you, go to mediclinic.co.za

By having your child vaccinated, you’re protecting them against serious communicable diseases.

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