My Child & I: Vaccination – Part I

Welcome to the first article in a new series, designed to give you a little more information regarding vaccinations. We hope to clarify some common doubts as well as give you a clearer picture as to why vaccines are important for the well being of you and your loved ones. Don’t miss Parts II, III & IV for more information.

Part I: The Basics

Vaccinations are a common rite of passage for the new parent and child. During the first few years of your child’s life, a trip to the doctor’s for their shots is often one of the first challenges the new parent has to deal with. Very often, the parent has to deal with a bawling child in addition to worrying about side effects from the vaccine. Faced with such a situation, who can help but wonder if the vaccine is necessary in the first place?


Hardly the most pleasant childhood memory

What are vaccines and why are there so many? What should your child get? Are you legally obligated to vaccinate your child? Lets try to answer some of the common questions faced by many parents, new and old.

What are vaccines?

The simplest way to explain what a vaccine is is to describe what it’s intended to do. Vaccines are medical products designed to provide recepients with immunity to specific diseases. This is usually given to the patient in the form of an injection or an oral preparation. Vaccines generally contain inactivated particles or harmless versions of the infectious agents they protect against.

Most infectious diseases are caused by microsopic organisms known as bacteria or viruses. These can be transmitted by contact with an ill person or their fluid secretions (depending on the particular organism involved). Once in the system, the infectious agent will start attacking and invading the cells of the body, causing symptoms such as cough, rashes, vomiting or diarrhea. Generally, the symptoms caused are temporary and clear once the infection has been dealt with. Occasionally , certain infections may cause severe illness and some may even leave long lasting issues such as infertility, paralysis or even lead to death!

The aim of a vaccine is to bolster the body’s immune system so it can fight off such infectious agents effectively even before they can invade and cause such harm to you.

How do they work?

Vaccines depend on getting the body’s immune system to recognise the invading organism as a threat and therefore mount an immune response to it. This is usually done by introducing particles from the dead organism, or by use of a live organism that has been made harmless. Both of these techniques mean that the immune system is given the necessary cues to mount an immune response but that the given agent cannot by itself cause harm to the patient. When given, the body will generate antibodies to immediately fight off the agent as well as store the event in immune memory cells so that in future exposures, the same response can be recreated.

Why does my child need so many shots?

One of the key challenges with a sucessful vaccination program is getting the memory cells to remember the infectious agent. Often, a single exposure is enough to produce antibodies, which will provide temporary protection against the infectious agent, but not to register in the memory cells to provide long-lasting immunity. Through painstaking clinical trials, researchers have identified the minimum number of doses required to log the infectious agent into the longterm memory cells of the immune system.

Additionally, the immune response to an infectious agent is very specific. Therefore a vaccine that triggers an immune response to chickenpox (for example) will program the immune system to be resilient to the chickenpox virus but will not offer any protection against the influenza virus. Therefore , a patient needs specific vaccinations to each and every organsim he/she wishes to get protected against.

There have been great progresses made in combining vaccinations into single dose deliveries. For example, the classic DPT vaccine ( already a combination vaccine providing immunity to Diptheria, Pertussis and Tetanus) now has variations which add-on components to protect against Polio, Hemophilus influenza B and even Hepatitis B. However,it is impossible to compress all the necessary vaccines into a single shot. For the time being at least, it seems that multiple shots are a necessary evil.


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