Childhood Immunisation

Childhood Immunisation
...The debate continues...

There has been much controversy surrounding the issue of childhood immunisation. Immunisation is essential for the control of many infectious diseases, however there is still much publicity about its adverse reactions and costs. Doctors and nurses play an important role in educating the public involving the facts encompassing immunisation.

In the 20th century immunisation significantly reduced the incident of diseases in young children. The protection against hazardous disease has greatly benefited our society. However in the late 80's immunisation rates fell as low as 44% in some areas, and outbreaks such as measles and rubella increased. It was thought that this was due to poor public compliance with immunisation programs.

There were several reasons for this including:

  • Vaccine costs
  • And a belief that immunisation was dangerous
  • A loss of fear about infectious diseases as they were not as prevalent as early years (due to immunisation almost eradicating these diseases).

    Allied health professionals need to support local programs about the facts of immunisation for infants and young children through means of education and interacting with parents. The parents must be given or seek out the knowledge of various products as well as their efficiency, schedule, side effects and contraindications. This with the co-ordination of immunisation programs, along with teaching parents about the importance of having their child immunised will help further outbreaks.

    A study showed 44% of parents believed nurses to be major sources of information on immunisation. Parents must realise they can access a nurse through a community health centre, and are able to ask questions in order to quash fears and of the concerns surrounding the negative information they may receive about immunisation. As with the administration of any drug product, anaphylactic reactions to vaccines are possible. However anaphylactic reactions are extremely rare. Common reactions may include slight pain and reddening at the injection site, and occasionally the child may feel slightly "off colour", though this is uncommon and may only last a day or two. Scientists are continually developing combination vaccines to reduce the number of injections required at any given time, which has decreased the risk of complications and side effects of immunisation in infants and children.

    One question frequently asked is what health professionals can do to reassure parents about the small percentage of adverse reactions occurring with immunisations. Doctors and nurses should firstly remind parents that if immunisations stopped then the diseases will return. Unfortunately parents are forgetting the benefits of immunisation, and are focusing on the small percentages of potential adverse reactions. Parents need to be reminded about what can happen if they don't have their child vaccinated, such as the epidemics that occurred from the lack of immunisations of the whooping cough vaccine. These epidemics between 1970-1980 occurred from the lack of confidence parents had in the pertussis vaccine, therefore they did not have their children immunised, resulting with a 30% coverage for whooping cough. Many children died unnecessarily as a result of lack of immunisation.

    It is important for parents to seek out changes occurring within immunisation procedures, and understand the reasons behind the changes. This can aid the parents in their choice as to whether to vaccinate their child/children or not.

    An important implication of immunisation is the decreasing cost of health care through preventing the disease. The cost of immunisation is less than the cost treating the disease. Vaccine efficiency has been found to be very high, the oral attenuated poliovirus vaccine has an efficiency of 95%. Due to this high efficiency, it is theoretically possible to eradicate an infectious disease through immunisation (if all infants and children are immunised), which could result with a savings of life and money. In the long run, immunisation can actually not only save the life of their child, but also save expensive treatment if their child was to acquire a preventable disease.

    From the issues explained in relation to immunisation, it clearly indicates allied health professionals must take his/her duty seriously in educating the public about immunisation. Parents must seek out current facts regarding the changes that occur with immunisation, in order to obtain a reliable source of information. There is much information available for parents about immunisation including pamphlets, booklets and books. These can be located at community health centres, doctor's surgery's and book stores. Parents must be aware of the debate surrounding the safety of immunisation to address their fears that it's adverse reactions are small, and that the cost of money and lives far outweigh the risk of not immunising a child.

    - Louise Ganey (RN)

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