Worried about getting your child vaccinated? It is the World Immunization Week, so let us tell you the importance of immunisation for your child.

Immunization is a process by which an individual becomes protected against a disease through vaccination. It is an act of introducing a vaccine into a person’s body. It saves lives, as it helps to protect against life-threatening diseases. The timing of immunizations for children is crucial to ensure maximum protection against vaccine-preventable diseases, including polio and measles. On the occasion of the World Immunization Week, observed between April 24 and 30, we tell you why immunization is important for children.

What is immunization?

Immunization is a method used to protect people from infectious diseases by stimulating the immune system to recognise and fight specific pathogens (like viruses or bacteria) before they can cause illness. The process typically involves administering a vaccine, which contains a weakened or inactive form of a microorganism, shares neonatologist and paediatrician Dr Abhishek Chopra. This exposure triggers the body’s immune response, leading to the production of antibodies and memory cells that can recognise and quickly respond to the real pathogen if encountered in the future. So, vaccinated people are less likely to contract the disease and are also less likely to spread it to others.

Why is immunization important: 6 benefits for children
Immunization is a must for children. Image courtesy: Freepik

Why is immunization important for children?

There are adult vaccines, but immunization is crucial for children too. Here are six key reasons why immunization is important for children:

1. Prevention of diseases

Currently, immunization prevents 3.5 to 5 million deaths each year from diseases like measles and tetanus, according to the World Health Organization. These diseases can cause severe complications, including brain damage. Vaccines significantly reduce the risk of contracting these illnesses.

2. Reduction of disease spread

Vaccination not only protects vaccinated kids, but also helps prevent the spread of infectious diseases within communities. When a large proportion of the population is vaccinated, the transmission of diseases is significantly reduced, says the expert.

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3. Effective and safe

Vaccines are tested before they are given the green signal. They are designed to be safe and effective in preventing diseases without causing harm to those who are getting it. Serious side effects from vaccines are extremely rare compared to the risks associated with the diseases they prevent.

4. Cost-effective

The cost of vaccinating a child is far lower than the cost of treating a child with a vaccine-preventable disease. Also, preventing these diseases reduces healthcare costs associated with hospitalisations, treatments, and long-term disabilities.

5. Protection of future generations

Vaccines have played a key role in reducing and eradicating diseases in the world. By ensuring high vaccination coverage among children, future generations can be protected from diseases that were once widespread and deadly.

6. School entry and travel requirements

Many schools and childcare facilities require proof of vaccination for enrollment. Some countries also require specific vaccinations for travel purposes. Keeping children up-to-date with vaccinations ensures they meet these requirements and can participate in educational and travel opportunities without restrictions.

Which all diseases can be prevented through vaccination?

Vaccination is a powerful tool for preventing various infectious diseases. For example, during the coronavirus pandemic, the Covid-19 vaccine was said to fight the virus causing the deadly disease. Here are some more diseases or infections that can be prevented through vaccination:

1. Measles

A highly contagious viral disease characterised by fever, rash, and cough. Measles can cause serious complications including pneumonia, and death.

2. Mumps

It is a viral infection that causes swelling of the salivary glands. Complications can include deafness, and inflammation of the testicles or ovaries, says Dr Chopra.

Polio can be prevented through vaccination. Image courtesy: Freepik

3. Polio

It is a disease that can cause paralysis and even death. Polio has been nearly eradicated in the world, thanks to vaccination efforts.

4. Diphtheria

It is a bacterial infection that can cause severe throat and breathing difficulties. It can even lead to heart failure and nerve damage.

5. Tetanus

A bacterial infection that causes severe muscle spasms and can be deadly. Tetanus bacteria are commonly found in soil and can enter the body when a person gets wounded.

6. Pertussis or whooping cough

A highly contagious bacterial infection of the respiratory tract that causes severe coughing spells. Pertussis can be life-threatening, especially in babies.

When is the right time to get children vaccinated?

Vaccinations are typically administered according to recommended schedules developed by public health authorities. For instance, Unicef recommends the first dose of Oral Polio Vaccine to be given at birth. The next dose is given when the child turns 6 weeks old followed by third dose at 10 weeks old. The final one is given at 14 weeks old.

Are there side effects of getting child vaccinated?

Vaccines can have side effects, but the vast majority of these side effects are mild and temporary, says Dr Chopra. Here are some key points about vaccine side effects:

1. Common side effects

Many vaccines can cause mild and temporary side effects, such as:

  • Pain
  • Redness, or swelling at the injection site
  • Low-grade fever
  • Mild fussiness or irritability
  • Fatigue or mild muscle aches

2. Serious side effects

Serious side effects from vaccines are very uncommon, but can include:

  • Allergic reactions such as hives, swelling and difficulty in breathing
  • High fever (this may be rare and usually resolves quickly)
  • Seizures

A vast majority of children experience no serious side effects from vaccines. The benefits of vaccination in preventing diseases and protecting people far outweigh the minimal risks associated with vaccination. If parents have concerns about vaccines or potential side effects, they should discuss them with a doctor.

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