Vaccinations - Your Questions Answered

  • 1 Dec 2009
  • Reading time 11 mins
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Vaccinating children has become a controversial issue. Expert Dr Richard Halvorsen answers questions from 100%health members.

Q: Would you condone not vaccinating children at all, especially if they have a healthy diet/lifestyle? Or do you believe there are certain vaccinations, which are vital for children in our modern day? Also, don't vaccinations compromise our immune systems? A: I do not share the view of many of my medical colleagues that full immunisation is essential for a child’s health. If parents make an informed decision not to vaccinate their child, then I do not believe this is irresponsible. Deciding if, how and when to vaccinate can be both difficult and confusing. However, I do recommend that all children are vaccinated against tetanus, while at the other extreme, I am at a loss to explain why all children are vaccinated against mumps, which, in the overwhelming majority of children, is a harmless illness. There is evidence that vaccinations can have adverse effects on our immune systems – for example, delaying giving a baby vaccines by a few months can reduce the risk of asthma by more than half.

Q: Overall what vaccinations would you recommend children in the UK to have, if any? A: I believe that parents should be allowed to make an informed decision as to what vaccines to give their child; this is what we encourage – and offer – at Babyjabs. Unless your child is never going to play in fields, then I would strongly encourage tetanus vaccination. I recommend vaccination against diphtheria and polio, but there is absolutely no need to start these at two months; unless the child is travelling to a high-risk area, both these vaccines could be left until later in childhood. On balance, giving the single measles vaccine is safer than catching measles. It is important that all girls are immune to German measles before they could become pregnant; immunity can be obtained by catching German measles naturally (though this is unlikely now that most children are immunised) or from vaccination. The benefits of vaccinating against the various types of meningitis (Hib, Meningitis C and Pneumococcus) and whooping cough are more finely balanced and depend on your priorities as a parent.

Q: When our son was six (five years ago) he had the measles vaccination only. Not long after, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and since then we have been reluctant to do the mumps and rubella as single vaccinations. The GP will only offer the MMR. What would you advise? A: There are certain vaccines that it may be best to avoid if your child, or a close relative, has diabetes. These include Hib, mumps, MMR and hepatitis B. It is not essential for a boy to be immunised against mumps or rubella – and you could get a blood test done to see if he is protected against measles.

Q: Please can you explain why MMR is so controversial and why it is considered okay to give these vaccines separately but not together? A: Of all the vaccines available, the MMR is the one about which I have the most concerns. Though safe in the majority, it is likely that it causes autism and bowel disease in a small number of susceptible children. Sadly there is no test to find out which children are more likely to develop problems after the MMR. It is probable that the single vaccines are safer, provided that they are separated by a sufficient amount of time – I usually suggest six months, though the optimum time is not known for certain. Separating out the vaccines by giving them singly minimises the risk of the viruses interacting in a way that could be harmful. The MMR is the only vaccine in use to contain three different live viruses, and this is believed to be the reason why it causes a problem in some children.

Q: My sons (5 and 10) had tetanus as part of their three, four and five month baby vaccinations. They have not had any other vaccinations as I am now very wary of them for various reasons including the preservatives used (eg aluminium). As tetanus is now only available as part of a cocktail, and as no one seems to know how many years protection tetanus vaccination provides, I have not given the boys their booster shots. I believe that a single tetanus vaccine is available in France, but do you know of any one offering it in this country? A: Your sons need tetanus boosters to remain immune. A total of five doses (the fifth usually given as a teenager) should offer good long-term protection. At Babyjabs we offer the single tetanus vaccine for use either as a primary course or as a booster.

Q: My daughter has had single vaccines for rubella and measles vaccinations but not mumps (I was told there was no vaccinations available at the time). I know there is a booster for MMR but have discovered that there is a school of thought that says that single vaccines are more effective and therefore a booster does not need to be given. I would like to know if this is true – not because I want to give my daughter further vaccinations but so that I can be aware of whether she may still contract any of these illnesses. A: The MMR and the single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are effective in most children after one dose. A second MMR dose is given to cover those children in who one or more components of the vaccine may not have worked first time around. The single vaccines are at least as effective as the MMR, and there is some evidence that the single mumps vaccine may be more effective than the mumps component of the MMR. The effectiveness of one dose of the single vaccines is approximately: measles 90%, mumps 85%, rubella (German measles) 95%. There is a blood test available with which you can check whether or not your child is immune ......

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