What with health scares, lack of information and hectic family schedules, it’s easy to fall behind with your child’s vaccinations. Dr Rita Kovesdi, a paediatrician at the Health Bay Polyclinic, answers our questions.
I’m behind with my child’s vaccination programme. How easy is it to get back up to date?
It’s very easy. We can always arrange a catch-up vaccination programme. This is drawn up for the individual child – and depends on their age and which vaccines they’ve fallen behind on. The time it takes them to catch up varies according to what they’ve already received. If they’ve had a live vaccine, you usually have to wait for four weeks between injections, but for a non-live vaccine, they can receive them sooner.
What are the most important vaccines to get done?
DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) and polio. Tetanus can be a deadly disease, as is diphtheria. Pertussis (whooping cough) can be very damaging to small babies, too. Polio is a must. It’s a terrible disease and can result in life-long paralysis. So these are the essential ones your baby should have. If parents are concerned about vaccinations, I do tell them they can wait a bit before administering the BCG, and the hepatitis jabs. But for these particular diseases, I strongly advise parents to vaccinate.
I thought I’d wait for my child to catch chicken pox naturally from his classmates. Is it really necessary to vaccinate him?
This can be an option. But why would you want your child to suffer for seven to 10 days with a nasty virus that can be extremely itchy and uncomfortable? While chicken pox is often harmless, it is unpleasant and the spots can leave nasty marks. Another complication is a bacterial super-infection of the spots. Although rare, it’s very nasty – and can be serious. When children have chicken pox, it’s important to shower them regularly for this reason. A child with chicken pox also poses a risk to pregnant women who might not be immune to the virus. It can cause severe problems for unborn babies and can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth. When you weigh these things up, it does seem more sensible to get your child vaccinated rather than not.
I’ve heard that you can still catch chicken pox despite having been given the vaccination.
This is true – especially after the first dose. If your child has received the first vaccination, they can still catch chicken pox, but it will be a very mild version because the vaccination has given them protection against it. Usually, they’ll only get a few spots and will recover quickly. After the second vaccination, which is now available and is given to children between the ages of four and six, it’s extremely unlikely they will catch it.
What jabs does my child have to have by the time he reaches school age?
By the time a child is three and starting nursery, they should be up to date with their MMR, chicken pox, their DTP and polio. The HIB is extremely important because it can prevent meningitis and septicaemia. The Pnemococci can also prevent meningitis and they should also have their Hep A and B shots. If you’re concerned that your child isn’t up to date, either check with your doctor or the nursery/school and find out which vaccinations they stipulate.
My toddler is terrified of needles. How can I make the vaccination process easier for him?
Talk to your paediatrician. We can apply a local anaesthetic cream for the injection area, so the process becomes less painful. And this is a situation where multiple vaccines really do come in handy, as it means the child is put through fewer injections in general. It’s best not to warn your child in advance. Bribe them with a sweet or keep them occupied with a toy, hold them firmly while remaining very calm, and don’t let them see the needle. If they don’t know what’s happening, they are less likely to panic. Other than that, there is no magic wand. Vaccinations may be painful, but they are necessary.
My child always develops a sore lump in his arm at the injection site, which takes several days to go down. Is this normal?
Yes, although not every child will have such a reaction. A mild fever is also to be expected in some children. If the swelling is large and quite hot, you should get it checked. However, a pea-sized lump is perfectly normal, especially after the DTP vaccine. And, it can stay for several months. To treat it in the first few days, apply a cold compress and administer Calpol, which helps ease any discomfort.
For more information, contact the Health Bay Polyclinic, www.healthbay.com (04 348 7140).