IMMUNISATION WEEK: FAQs Answered by a Paediatrician

Illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancers cause severe immunosuppression in children.

Illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancers cause severe immunosuppression in children.

Photo credit: Fotosearch

What you need to know:

  • Immunisation protects children from diseases that can cause serious health problems and even death.
  • There is also a lot of misinformation, causing confusion and vaccine hesitancy among parents.
  • Other additional vaccines are recommended though not yet available in the government schedule.

Immunisation of children is one of the most important things you can do for your child. Immunisation protects children from diseases that can cause serious health problems and even death.

Unfortunately, there is also a lot of misinformation, causing confusion and vaccine hesitancy among parents. This puts lots of children in preventable danger of serious diseases or even death.

Dr Christine Chege, a leading paediatric infectious diseases specialist in Kenya and a passionate immunization champion, answers the most frequent questions parents ask about the immunization of children.

Whether you are sitting on the fence or just looking for some more information, read on to get her expert advice on immunizing your children.

Why is immunisation important?

"Immunisation is important because it protects children from diseases that can cause serious illness, disability, and even death. In addition, immunizations have helped to eradicate or reduce to very low levels some of the deadliest illnesses in human history." Dr Christine Chege.

Illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancers cause severe immunosuppression in children. Therefore, immunizations are vital for such children to boost their immunity and protect them from opportunistic infections.

She also adds that immunization helps protect entire communities by reducing the spread of disease. When more people are immunized, it creates what is known as "herd immunity," which makes it harder for an infection to spread. This is especially important for protecting vulnerable community members who cannot be immunized or young infants who may not yet be eligible for some vaccines.

Which immunisations are recommended under the government schedule and offered free of charge in all health facilities?

According to the immunisation schedule by the Ministry of Health, all children should be immunized as follows:

Age

Antigen

Disease Prevented

Birth

BCG

Oral Polio Vaccine

Tuberculosis

Polio

Six Weeks

D/P/T/Hib/Hep B (Pentavalent injection)


Oral Polio Vaccine

Pneumococcal Vaccine


Rotavirus

Diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough), Tetanus

Haemophilus Influenza – Type b & Hepatitis B

Polio

Pneumonia/meningitis/sepsis caused by pneumococcal bacteria

Rotavirus diarrhoea

Ten Weeks

D/P/T/Hib/Hep B (Pentavalent injection)


Oral Polio Vaccine

Pneumococcal Vaccine


Rotavirus

Diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough), Tetanus,

Haemophilus Influenza – Type b & Hepatitis B

Polio

Pneumonia/meningitis/sepsis caused by pneumococcal bacteria

Rotavirus diarrhoea

Fourteen Weeks

D/P/T/Hib/Hep B (Pentavalent injection)


Oral Polio Vaccine


Pneumococcal Vaccine

Injectable polio vaccine

Diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus,

Haemophilus Influenza – Type B &

Hepatitis B

Polio

Pneumonia/meningitis/sepsis caused by pneumococcal bacteria

Polio

Six Months

Vitamin A

Vitamin A Deficiency prevention

Nine Months

MR

Yellow Fever (in selected counties)

Measles, Rubella

Yellow Fever

18 months

MR

Vitamin A

Measles, Rubella


10-14 years

HPV vaccine

Human papilloma virus that may cause cervical cancer


Additional recommended vaccines available at a cost in private facilities

According to Dr Christine Chege, other additional vaccines are recommended though not yet available in the government schedule. These include:

  • The Varicella vaccine for chickenpox
  • Cholera vaccine
  • Hepatitis A vaccine
  • A meningococcal vaccine to protect against meningococcal meningitis
  • Typhoid vaccine
  • Influenza vaccine

Booster vaccinations are recommended from the second year of life to ensure long-lasting immunity to diseases such as pneumococcal, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough). The boosters are especially important for children and adults with certain medical conditions that predispose them to severe infections.

What is the difference between regular vaccines offered by the government schedule and ‘Baby-Friendly’ Vaccines?

"First, the Kenya Paediatric Association (KPA) discourages using the term 'baby-friendly' vaccines," Dr Chege advises, since all vaccines are friendly to babies, protecting them from disease."

The term 'baby-friendly' vaccine was coined to refer to the newer D/P/T/HepB/Hib/IPV (hexavalent) vaccine that offers protection against six diseases, i.e.: Poliovirus, Hepatitis B virus (HBV), Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib), Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus in one injection. In addition, the pertussis component in hexavalent vaccines is acellular (more purified) and thus less likely to cause fever in children.

In contrast, the regular pentavalent (D/P/T/HepB/Hib) vaccine offers protection against Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type b with the injectable polio vaccine given as a single separate injection. This category of vaccines may cause fever but are still safe for the child.

Hexavalent is available at a fee in private medical facilities, while pentavalent is offered free in both government and private facilities.

Can a child still get vaccinated after the recommended timelines have elapsed?

"Yes. Children can still get vaccinated even if they have not received all the recommended immunizations." Dr Chege says, "It is totally safe for the child to get the missed vaccines at once, as long as they are spaced properly."

Parents should, however, strive to ensure that their children receive all immunizations within the set timelines.

Is it possible for the baby to have an adverse reaction? What should the parent do when that happens?

"Yes. A baby can have an adverse reaction after being immunized," Dr Christine explains, " however, most adverse reactions usually not serious and can be easily managed." Severe reactions almost always occur within the first fifteen minutes after getting the vaccine. That is why the parent is advised to wait within the facility for some time so that the medical service provider can monitor the child's reaction.

In the unlikely event that your child reacts to the vaccine after you have left the facility, seek medical attention immediately and bring along the immunization card.

Dr Christine advises parents always to get vaccines at reputable medical facilities because these are regularly inspected by government officials to ensure they comply with safety standards and are staffed with trained personnel.

What are the most common myths and misconceptions about the immunisation of children?

"A lot of people, especially online, peddle the myth that some immunizations cause autism," Dr Christine Chege. "There is, however, no evidence that immunizations cause autism. In fact, studies have shown that autism can be detected way before the child's vaccination."

"Some parents also interpret the lack of fever in children who have gotten hexavalent ('baby-friendly) vaccines as evidence that they are ineffective," she adds. The vaccines, however, are just as effective as the regular, pentavalent vaccines.

Lately, some parents have become hesitant to have their children receive the newer vaccines being added to the schedule saying the multiple vaccines may cause harm in later life. Vaccine manufacture involves a series of stages that may span up to 10 years except in emergency situations such as pandemics. It is, therefore, safer to receive the vaccine than suffer the consequences of contracting the preventable disease.

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