Vaccination is the most effective way of preventing communicable diseases. Administering a vaccine stimulates your child's immune system and helps them fight against a variety of diseases by inducing the body to create antibodies.
Under the Indian government's National Immunisation Programme (NIP), certain vaccines need to be given to infants mandatorily. These include the BCG vaccine (to protect against the spread of tuberculosis by way of blood), polio vaccine, measles vaccine and DPT that guards against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus. Nowadays, the Hepatitis B vaccine is also included. These vaccines are provided free of cost at government hospitals and are considered absolutely necessary against dreaded diseases.
Apart from the mandatory ones, there is a whole list of vaccines that can be given to children. These include vaccines against rotavirus, varicella, hepatitis A, typhoid etc. Vaccines such as those for influenza, cholera, encephalitis etc. are also recommended for high-risk children. These vaccines are usually available at private clinics, hospitals and nursing homes and are administered at the discretion of the doctor and parents.
"Vaccination is a must in a developing country such as India, where measles and tetanus are still major diseases that lead to deaths in infants and children below 5 years of age", says Dr Anand Satarkar, a paediatrician practising in rural Maharashtra. Despite relentless government propaganda, the coverage of fully immunised children is just 50% in Maharashtra and much lower in states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Dr Satarkar says that this is due to a host of factors such as illiteracy (especially in females), false beliefs that vaccination is harmful and low accessibility.
Efficacy and side effects
Most vaccines have an efficacy rate of 80 to 95%. Loss of efficacy has multiple causes. According to Dr Satarkar, for vaccines to be effective, they must fulfil 5 important criteria:
- Right age group
- Right dosage
- Correct site of injection
- Correct route (whether injected in the muscle or under the skin or given orally)
- Correct technique.
Side effects of vaccines range from rashes and swelling, to pain and fever. "Reactions to vaccines are mild and doctors usually take care of them" says Dr T Rajmohan, a paediatrician from Tamil Nadu. Anaphylaxis (serious allergic reactions) are extremely rare.
An Alternative Approach
Despite what doctors say, some parents prefer to steer clear of vaccines. Case in point being Mrs Niyati Modi, an advertising professor from Mumbai. Modi's five and a half-year-old son has only been administered the polio vaccine, that too after he turned five. Modi, a big believer in active and healthy living, prefers to build natural immunity to ward off diseases instead of using vaccines. "If you conduct medical testing of vaccines, you will find that they contain harmful elements such as mercury, and are, in fact, hazardous to children", says Modi.
To vaccinate or not may be two opposing schools of thought; yet, doctors are unanimous in agreeing that the advantages of vaccination far outweigh the side effects. "We have eradicated small pox and are on the final stages of eradicating polio and this is only because of vaccination", says Dr Rajmohan.
This article is intended to provide information. Please always consult your doctor before making a medical decision.