Needling the point

Kids vaccinations are often a hotly debated subject. We spoke to Dr. Zainab Malik about the details you need to know

Interview, Health

Kids vaccinations are often a hotly debated subject. We spoke to Dr. Zainab Malik about the details you need to know.

The first child ever to be vaccinated was James Phipps in 1796 when Dr. Edward Jenner injected him with cowpox, giving him immunity against the much more serious infection, smallpox. Little did James know that he signalled the beginning of a medical revolution which would save the lives of millions of people each year. As an example, in the 1950s, before a vaccine was commonplace, Polio paralysed around 37,000 children and killed in the region of 1,700 every year in the USA alone.

How do vaccines work?
Vaccines are made with the same bacteria or viruses that cause disease, but are only used in part, or weakened to make them safe. After vaccination a child’s immune system will produce antibodies, just as it would after exposure to the actual disease, meaning the child will develop immunity against the disease.

Do vaccines pose a risk to my child?
Vaccinations for children can promote a heated debate amongst parents with some believing that the side effects of vaccines can be more dangerous than the diseases themselves. There is however, overwhelming evidence from rigorous scientific trials which proves that this is not the case. The side effects of vaccinations are generally mild and occur in approximately only one child in four. These side effects can include slight fever and tenderness at the injection site. These symptoms would appear soon after the vaccine is given and disappear within a day or two. More serious side effects such as an allergic reaction are very rare, but if your child develops hives, swelling of the face and throat or has difficulty breathing, you should treat it as a medical emergency and seek immediate attention. The benefits of vaccinations far outweigh these small risks and prevent debilitating illness, long-term disability and death from preventable causes.

What vaccines does my child need in the UAE?
Living in the UAE, we are exposed to a global melting pot of cultures, languages and diseases. Parents can protect their children against serious illness by following the vaccination schedule recommended by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) which includes BCG, diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, haemophilus influenza Type b, hepatitis B, polio, pneumococcal, MMR, varicella (chicken pox) and the newly-added rotavirus vaccine. In addition, a few optional vaccines like hepatitis A, typhoid, meningitis and the seasonal influenza vaccine can be offered to children at the discretion of their paediatrician. Children attending school in Dubai also typically need to provide a copy of their immunisation card to the school to document that they are up-to-date with all their vaccines.

Why does my child need vaccines against diseases which are now virtually unheard of?
Ironically, the fact that some infections like smallpox have been eradicated due to vaccination, and many other vaccine-preventable diseases have become uncommon in industrialised countries, has led some parents to feel that vaccination is no longer necessary, but it is actually because of these gaps in vaccination coverage that diseases like diphtheria, measles and polio are making a comeback. Recent outbreaks of polio in Syria, Pakistan, Cameroon and Equitorial Guinea due to disruptions in childhood immunisation programmes prove that there is a very real threat of re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases as soon as mass vaccination is stopped. It is only safe to stop vaccination when a disease has been eradicated globally. For example, vaccination against smallpox was ceased in 1979 when the disease was declared to have been completely eradicated. If parents continue to vaccinate their children, it is hoped that polio and measles may eventually follow suit.

There will always be children who cannot receive vaccinations, either because of lack of access to healthcare in some parts of the world or underlying medical problems - but if the majority of children are vaccinated, this will help prevent disease outbreaks in the community.

Be responsible - make sure you and your family are adequately vaccinated. For more information on a vaccination schedule for your child, talk to your healthcare provider.
Dr. Zainab A. Malik is a Pediatrics & Pediatric Infectious Diseases specialist at Mediclinic City Hospital.

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