Vaccinations: what every parent needs to know

  • 6 Jan 2009
  • Reading time 14 mins
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There’s so much controversy over vaccinations, so how can you act for the best? Start by being better informed…

Here are the key questions to ask, with guidance to follow:

1. How effective are vaccines?

2. How dangerous is the disease?

3. What are the side-effects of the vaccination?

4. Are combination vaccines more dangerous or less effective?

5. When, if at all, is the best time to be vaccinated?

Mercury and Aluminium

Before 2004, vaccines routinely contained mercury (as Thimerosal), an extremely toxic metal, which may have contributed to the increase of children developing autism, hyperactivity, speech disorders and a number of other developmental problems.2 Thankfully, this is no longer added (except to some adult influenza vaccines), but another poisonous metal, aluminium, is still present in most vaccines available on the NHS.3 Aluminium is also highly toxic and implicated in brain damage and behavioural problems in children.4 And worryingly, the addition of more vaccines to the immune schedule means that the quantity of aluminium given to babies is increasing. VIEW: Potential harm can be reduced by minimising the aluminium load wherever possible. Request vaccines which contain the least aluminium – for example, of the three available Meningitis vaccines, Meningitec (Wyeth) contains the lowest amount.5 Also, reduce the amount your baby is exposed to at any one time. So instead of having the Pediacel (5-in-1), Men C and pneumococcal vaccines all on the same day, spread them over a longer time period. And if you can afford to go privately, you can pay for single and small combination baby vaccines, where the vaccines are either aluminium-free or have the lowest aluminium content available. Encouragingly, none of the single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, the combination MMR or the Hib/Men C booster contain aluminium.

The New 5-in-1 Vaccination

The 5-in-1 vaccine Pediacel – which combines polio, whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria, tetanus and Hib – was launched in 2004 and contains safer polio and whooping cough vaccines.6 However, research published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology has shown that the risk of childhood asthma doubled when the first dose of diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus was given at the recommended time (ie two months old) versus being delayed by more than two months (ie at least four months old).7 In addition, the risk decreased with delays in giving all of the doses. Although this research looked at a slightly different type of whooping cough vaccine, the new 5-in-1 vaccine has polio and Hib added, so the load on a child’s immune system is further increased. VIEW: You could decide to delay giving the first dose of this vaccine until your baby is at least four months old, and then further space out the two follow-up jabs over their first year. This is particularly advisable if there is a family history of asthma, or if your child has ever suffered from eczema. And if you can afford to go privately, you could opt to have separate or small combination vaccines spread over an even longer timeframe.


While polio is a serious disease, it is worth noting that in June 2002, the World Health Organisation (WHO) certified that Europe was polio-free, with the last case being reported in the UK in 1982, and only one case of imported polio from overseas in 1993. In addition, according to the WHO’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative, there were only 1,303 reported cases of Polio worldwide in 2007, with most cases being reported in India and Nigeria. VIEW: If you are not planning to visit a region where the risk of contracting polio is relatively high, you may question the benefits of vaccinating. But if you are travelling with your child to Asia or Africa, then vaccination should definitely be considered.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Dr Gordon Stewart, one of Britain’s experts in this area, claims that whooping cough is no longer a serious threat to the life and health of our children. But the vaccine may be dangerous for some. According to Dr Richard Halvorsen, author of The Truth about Vaccines and a GP who runs a private clinic ( that offers a choice of baby vaccines, there is some research to suggest that in rare and isolated cases, the whooping cough vaccination is linked to cot death.8 Furthermore, a study published in the British Medical Journal indicated that the vaccine may not even be that effective as school age children still had symptoms of whooping cough, despite 86% of them being immunised as infants.9 VIEW: This vaccine appears to have a questionable level of effectiveness, but as it’s part of the 5-in-1, your baby can’t avoid it. However, as previously recommended, aim to wait until your child is at least four months old before immunising.


Tetanus is a bacteria commonly present in our environment, such as in the soil. Its normal route of infection is through an open wound, rather than from person to person. So the risk of infection can be minimised by cleaning wounds properly. VIEW: As babies are unlikely to be at risk from tetanus, at least until they start crawling and exploring their environment, there is an argument for delaying this vaccine until around six months.


Diphtheria is caused by a bacterial infection which is usually spread by coughing. While this toxic bacteria is very rare in the UK, it can never be eradicated because the vaccine is active against the poison produced by the bacteria rather than against the bacteria itself. VIEW: This is one of the vaccines that should be considered, and the prevailing view is that it is one of the safest.

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

Hib is an uncommon but potentially serious disease, although we can carry Hib bacteria in our nose and throat without ever developing any symptoms.10 If an infection does develop, the symptoms are mostly mild, such as an ear ......

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