One question that might arise in the minds of new parents is, “Why do we need to vaccinate our children from an early age?” (Among the million other questions we have as new parents, of course…)
So if this is a question that has crossed your mind, it is likely because your parental instincts are in full force and you want to help protect your kids from all threats and dangers. This includes threats arising from diseases and potential health problems.
If you have been wondering why we start vaccinating our kids from a young age, this article should help shed some light on that and answer your question.
Why is it necessary to vaccinate children from an early age?
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Vaccines are especially important because babies have weaker immune systems. Therefore, by giving vaccines to your kids according to the set schedule of an immunisation programme, you can help protect your baby from potentially life-threatening diseases1. For example:
- Tuberculosis (TB) – This disease can cause serious infections such as meningitis and spread to other organs2.
- Diphtheria – Toxins released by bacteria which may lead to blocked airways3.
- Pertussis (whooping cough) – Can cause whooping cough and lack of oxygen to the brain4.
- Tetanus – Bacterial poisoning that can cause cramps in the muscles of the body and affects the ability to open the jaw5.
- Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) – This bacteria can cause infection of the lungs (pneumonia), respiratory tract and meningitis6.
- Hepatitis B – This virus can cause severe damage to the liver and increases the risk of the individual getting liver cancer in the future6.
- Polio – This virus can cause paralysis and even death6.
- Measles – This virus can cause fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, infection of the brain (encephalitis) and lungs (pneumonia)7.
- Mumps – This virus can cause viral meningitis and infection of testicles (orchitis)8.
- Rubella – The virus can cause fever, rash, nausea and mild conjunctivitis9.
- Pneumococcus – This bacteria can cause severe diseases like meningitis or milder infections like sinusitis or ear infections6.
- Rotavirus – This virus can cause severe diarrhoea and dehydration6.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) – This virus can cause cervical cancer and genital warts6.
- Varicella (Chickenpox) – This virus can cause a blister like rash and fever, which can also cause shingles later as adults if the virus reactivates10.
- Influenza – This virus can cause epidemics of flu diseases or flu season11.
- Meningococcal – This bacteria can cause deadly infections of the lining of the brain, spinal cord (meningitis) and bloodstream12.
- Hepatitis A – This virus is a highly contagious infection that attacks the liver13.
Understanding the Different Types of Vaccines Available14
If you’re still confused about what vaccines are and how it can help protect your children, we’re going to try and simplify it here for you. These are the various vaccines available and what it does:
#1: Live attenuated vaccine
Live vaccines are made from bacteria or viruses that are weakened, but can still trigger the body to create immune-building reactions similar to natural infections14.
#2: Inactivated vaccine (Killed vaccine)
These are vaccines that are made from the disease-carrying bacteria or virus that is inactivated or killed during the process of creating the vaccine14.
#3: Toxoid Vaccine
Toxoid vaccines are made from weakened toxins, which are then called toxoids. Our bodies will learn how to fight off the natural toxins after being exposed to the vaccine containing the toxoid14.
#4: Subunit Vaccine
These vaccines are made from specific parts of a virus or bacterium called subunits (think of it as a smaller version), using only essential antigens and not the entire germ to train the body to fight these infections14.
#5: mRNA Vaccine
mRNA vaccines teach our cells how to produce proteins. It triggers an immune response when our body recognizes that this protein does not belong in the body and therefore produces antibodies to fight off the infection15.
If You Did Not Vaccinate Your Child, What Are The Risks?
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#1: They are at risk of contracting an infectious disease that may lead to death16
Children who do not receive complete immunisations on time are at risk of exposure to the various vaccine-preventable diseases listed above.
Furthermore, children are also vulnerable to a variety of other health problems that may arise from contracting the initial disease. For example, if they are infected with measles, complications such as diarrhoea, pneumonia or encephalitis can arise7.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most children who are not vaccinated are more likely to be infected with a disease that can result in death17.
#2: The rest of the family becomes susceptible16
When you take the right steps to protect your family, like keeping the house clean, wearing a mask when you are sick and making sure everyone’s immunisation schedule is adhered to, everyone benefits from this.
However, when one member of the family is left vulnerable to the kaleidoscope of diseases out there in the world, it puts the entire family at risk.
We spend most of our time with our loved ones at home but at the same time, we also go out and are exposed to outside environments which may be full of viruses and bacteria. We could unknowingly bring home viruses and inadvertently pass it to the family and this can be fatal to an unvaccinated child.
Adults themselves can also become infected and experience mild symptoms with fatal complications; for example, pregnant women infected with the rubella virus are at high risk of giving birth to a child with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) or worse still, result in fetal death9.
#3: You put your community at risk too16
Think of your community as the daycare friends your toddler has, or perhaps your group of friends who might be expecting, or even your ageing parents. Think of your community as your favourite yoga friends or your child’s swimming teacher and classmates. Or they could even be your favourite cashier at the local supermarket or your neighbour that you share a common lift with.
Communities are made up of the people we interact with on a daily basis. So if you’re carrying viruses or diseases, it can lead to wider community outbreaks if everyone is not vaccinated.
Polio, which was not detected in Malaysia for over 27 years, made an appearance in December 2019 due pockets of unvaccinated children causing a reemergence. But with a polio vaccination campaign put in place, the outbreak was curbed18. Today, polio vaccines are still given to children and included in the National Immunisation Programme19.
As we have seen through the COVID-19 pandemic, taking drastic steps like global lockdowns, social distancing and wearing masks had helped to curb the spread of the disease among communities20. But with the introduction of vaccines, we have seen cases become less severe towards the general communities. However, since most infants and toddlers are still not able to receive the vaccine for that particular disease, they are still left vulnerable21.
Just like how we would not want our neighbours passing COVID-19 to our children, we wouldn’t want our kids to be the source of other vaccine-preventable diseases too.
#4: Prevention is better than cure (and it might also be cheaper)16
Disease not only directly affects individuals or their families but also carries a huge financial impact for society as a whole. It may require expensive and time-consuming treatment plans that usually occur in the medium to long-term.
For example, diphtheria requires immediate treatment in a hospital that has the capacity to treat the disease and its complications. The patient is required to be placed in an isolated room and requires special medication16,22. With hospitals at full capacity due to COVID-19, this is not a risk parents should take at this time.
If we had to put it into whole numbers, getting your child vaccinated would likely cost you a couple thousand Ringgit over their lifetime (factoring in taking recommended vaccinations at private clinics, transportation cost to these clinics and maybe some consultation costs), but a single night’s stay at a private hospital would set you back the same if not more.
#5: The long-term effects on quality of life for your child and family16
Did you know that some of these diseases that can be prevented with vaccines can actually cause lifelong disability? For example, in extreme cases, measles can result in blindness16,23.
Parents, you have the ball in your court when it comes to protecting your children from potential decreased quality of life. So what else can you do to help protect your child today?
Other Protections That Parents Can Do Besides Vaccinating Children
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In addition to teaching children good eating habits and activities, you can also teach them some basic health and hygiene habits. For example:
- Wash your hands every time you use the toilet, after you blow your nose, and before you eat.
- Do not share hats, combs, toothbrushes or other personal items with other children.
- Close your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
- Do not touch the saliva, blood, urine, faeces or other unknown fluids anywhere.
When & How To Get the Treatment?
Parents, the first thing you ought to do as soon as you find out you’re pregnant is to decide on a good paediatrician that you can trust for decades to come. Many parents become very reliant on their paediatricians to offer them advice for their child’s health.
Typically, this doctor would know your child very well and would be highly familiar with their medical history and health. It is also good to stick with the same doctor as they would have their vaccination records on hand and would be able to advise when an upcoming vaccination is due.
If you have not seen your paediatrician recently, we highly recommend booking an appointment to discuss your child’s health protection plan as soon as you can!
- PORTAL MyHEALTH. Immunisation: Facts And Myths. Available From: https://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/immunisation-facts-myths/. Last Accessed 24 August 2022.
- Mayo Clinic. Tuberculosis. Available From: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tuberculosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351250. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- Mayo Clinic. Diphtheria. Available From: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diphtheria/symptoms-causes/syc-20351897. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- National Health Services Inform. Whooping cough. Available From: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/whooping-cough. Last Accessed 24 August 2022.
- Mayo Clinic. Tetanus. Available From: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tetanus/symptoms-causes/syc-20351625. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- UNICEF. Vaccines and the diseases they prevent. Available From: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/health/vaccines-and-diseases-they-prevent. Last Accessed 24 August 2022.
- Mayo Clinic. Measles. Available From: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/measles/symptoms-causes/syc-20374857. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- National Health Services. Mumps – Complications. Available From: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/mumps/complications/. Last Accessed 24 August 2022.
- World Health Organization. Rubella. Available From: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/rubella. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- PORTAL MyHEALTH. Chickenpox. Available From: https://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/chickenpox/. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Types of Influenza Viruses. Available From https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/viruses/types.htm. Last Accessed 21 August 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Meningococcal Disease. Available From: https://www.cdc.gov/meningococcal/index.html#:~:text=Meningococcal%20disease%20refers%20to%20any,cord%20(meningitis)%20and%20bloodstream.. Last Accessed 24 August 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is hepatitis A – FAQ. Available From: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hav/afaq.htm#overview. Last Accessed 22 August 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding How Vaccines Work. Available From: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/conversations/understanding-vacc-work.html. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines. Available From: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines/mrna.html. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- UNICEF Indonesia. 7 consequences and risks of not getting your child routinely vaccinated. Available From: https://www.unicef.org/indonesia/stories/7-consequences-and-risks-not-getting-your-child-routinely-vaccinated. Last Accessed 19 August 2022.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common Questions About Vaccines. Available From: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/FAQs.html. Last Accessed 24 August 2022.
- World Health Organization. Following a successful mass vaccination campaign, the polio outbreak ends in Malaysia. Available From: https://www.who.int/malaysia/news/detail/27-09-2021-following-a-successful-mass-vaccination-campaign-the-polio-outbreak-ends-in-malaysia. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- Immunise4Life. The Malaysian National Immunisation Programme (NIP). Available From: https://immunise4life.my/the-malaysian-national-immunisation-programme-nip/. Last Accessed 19 August 2022.
- Talic S, Shah S, Wild H, Gasevic D, Maharaj A, Ademi Z, et al. Effectiveness of public health measures in reducing the incidence of covid-19, SARS-COV-2 transmission, and covid-19 mortality: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The BMJ. British Medical Journal Publishing Group. 2021;375.
- World Health Organization. Interim statement on covid-19 vaccination for children. Available From: https://www.who.int/news/item/11-08-2022-interim-statement-on-covid-19-vaccination-for-children. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- Mayo Clinic. Diphtheria. Available From: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diphtheria/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351903. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.
- World Health Organization. Measles. Available From: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles. Last Accessed 20 August 2022.