For several years now, the issue of childhood vaccination has stirred up controversy among the general public. Are vaccines really necessary? Are they even safe? Read this article for the answers to many of the most common questions about immunization.
Answers to your questions on childhood vaccination
Why should I have my child vaccinated?
Children are born with natural immunity that protects them from certain diseases. It’s the immune system’s job to ensure this protection, but it needs time to learn to recognize and fight the various diseases. Vaccines provide additional immunity from certain illnesses that can make babies very sick and, in certain cases, even cause permanent damage. In other words, vaccines give their developing immune system a helping hand. When children are vaccinated, they receive long-lasting protection against many serious, even life-threatening, illnesses.
Is vaccination mandatory?
No. In Quebec, vaccination is done on a voluntary basis. You decide whether or not you wish to have your child vaccinated. Getting your child vaccinated against diseases that no longer exist (polio, diphtheria, smallpox) may seem futile. However, if children stop getting vaccines, these diseases will return. So when you get your child immunized, you are actually helping to control the prevalence of these diseases.
Are vaccines safe?
Yes. The vaccines available today are safe. Only in rare cases do they lead to serious reactions. Remember that complications from vaccine-preventable diseases are much more dangerous to your child’s health than the vaccine itself. Just think of poliomyelitis and diphtheria, which can cause permanent muscle paralysis, or measles, which can cause deafness.
Do vaccines work?
Yes! Thanks to vaccination, many diseases, such as diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, rubella, mumps, chickenpox and certain types of meningitis, are much less common nowadays. That being said, they still pose a health risk for children who have not been vaccinated.
Can the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine cause autism?
This hypothesis was formulated over ten years ago and is still with us today*. According to many serious studies, no vaccine, including this one, causes autism. There is no cause for concern.
*This controversy began in 1998, when The Lancet published an erroneous study linking autism to the MMR vaccine. In 2004, the editors of the journal recognized that this fraudulent study never should have been published; they officially retracted it in 2010. Here’s another interesting fact: according to a 2006 study by McGill University researchers, the number of autism cases in the West has increased despite a significant drop in MMR vaccination rates.
Can giving children several vaccines at once overload their immune system?
No. Every day, our body comes into contact with millions of germs and our immune system is constantly fighting to protect us from them. Your child’s immune system has no problem assimilating the small number of antigens (attenuated or dead viruses and bacteria) found in vaccines. In addition, the number of antigens in vaccines has been considerably reduced over time.
Why must my child receive boosters (additional doses) of the same vaccine?
Children must receive several doses of the same vaccine so that their systems can manufacture antibodies to fight the disease if they catch it. That is why you should follow the immunization schedule as carefully as possible. To consult this schedule, visit the Québec health department’s Website.
What are the most common adverse reactions to vaccines?
Your child may develop a mild fever or other minor reactions, such as redness, sensitivity and swelling at the injection site. These symptoms are not dangerous and will generally disappear on their own in a few days. The nurse who administers the vaccines will explain the reactions you can expect. Anyone who receives a vaccine must wait 15 minutes before leaving the health clinic or establishment to make sure a nurse or doctor is present should a major side effect or allergic reaction occur.
What should I do if my child becomes feverish after a vaccine?
Some children develop a fever after being vaccinated. In such cases, acetaminophen for children (e.g. Tempra, Tylenol) is recommended. If the fever lasts more than 48 hours, however, see a doctor. Important: The MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine given at 12 and 18 months may cause a fever that can last 5 to 12 days after the injection.
Good to know!
Never give acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) to children under 18 years of age since it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially deadly disease.