A short article written by Rebecca Carman – Immunisation Alliance member

Immunisation: why is it important?

Immunisation plays a key role in child health and is one of the greatest health care achievements of in terms of protection and prevention. The West Australian Immunisation Schedule provides you and your family with details about specific vaccinations, when they are due and what they protect you from. This schedule can be found at http://healthywa.wa.gov.au which is the consumer version of the Department of Health website. The site also provides health and travel alerts and detailed information about specific vaccinations; all of which can be found through the search engine.

How many visits will I need?

Within the first 4 years of a child’s life, the W.A Immunisation Schedule recommends that we make contact with a health provider on 7 occasions. This provides your child with vital vaccinations to prevent the spread of certain diseases which potentially may be present in your community or area you live in. You will find that on many occasions, a combination of vaccines is given to your child during each visit. In most children (unless your Dr has advised otherwise or you have a medical reason not to), it is safe to receive a number of vaccines at the same visit. Your child’s immune system is able to efficiently process them and make a response and memory of what they have been exposed to. This response is what sets up the protection to prevent your child from contracting a disease. Some vaccines provide life-long immunity, while others, such as the Whooping Cough vaccine start to wane after a number of years. This is why your child will get a booster injection as they get older. These are often given at high school by the community or school health nurse.

It is also common to receive more than one dose of a specific vaccine. In these vaccines, more than one dose is required to initiate an adequate immune response. Your Dr or provider will be able to let you know when you should return for any additional vaccines so that your child is fully protected.

Does a vaccine only protect my child?

Vaccination not only protects your child from disease, it works to protect those that cannot receive vaccinations.  This may include those that are going through chemotherapy, have an impaired immune system or allergic to a particular vaccine or part of. Essentially, the greater number of people that are vaccinated reduces the number of people that you come across that could possibly infect you or your child.

When will my child receive their first vaccination?

Your child’s first contact with a vaccine occurs shortly after birth. The vaccine that is given at this time prevents Hepatitis B and ideally should be given within the first 24 hours; sooner if the mother has a history of having this disease.  However, even if the disease status of the mother is unknown, by giving this vaccine at an early stage there is strong evidence to suggest that this is a far greater way of prevention than delaying the vaccine; especially if there are household or other close family members and friends that the baby may be in contact with upon discharge.

If you are unsure when your newborns next vaccinations are due after being discharged from hospital, your midwife, nurse or obstetrician will be able to advise you. They will also be able to direct you to a convenient immunisation provider.

Why is timing so important?

The timing of all vaccines is crucial. Delaying your child’s vaccinations from the date they have been scheduled, may result in your child not being able to receive the vaccine at all. Not because your provider doesn`t want to give it, but due to safety reasons. This is particularly true of the 2 Rotavirus vaccinations, given at 2 and 4 months of age. Both doses of this vaccine have strict age restrictions associated with them. These age restrictions have been set due to an associated higher risk of developing a side-effect in response to being given the vaccine at an older age. Response to vaccines can vary greatly at different age points.

The Hepatitis B vaccine should also be given on time.  If an unvaccinated baby or child contracts Hepatitis B at this early age, there is up to a 90% chance that they will go on to develop chronic liver disease. This may have life-long impact, so on-time prevention is important.

Why will my child receive several doses of the one vaccine?

The number of doses given to a child is essentially dependent on your child’s immune response to the vaccine being given. Previous studies have shown that at certain ages, a child’s response to a specific vaccine may be highly effective and produce the desired effect. However, with some vaccines, the bodies’ response decreases progressively with age. This is when a second dose is required to illicit an effective immune response to provide long- term protection. The body’s response and age related risks are essentially what the W.A Immunisation Schedule has been based on. So, take comfort in knowing that the schedule is safe and has had a vast amount of research involved in the making of it.

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