Have you immunised your child?

Children in the UK have the lowest take-up rate of childhood inoculations in the developed world. We look at why vaccinations are a major issue to parents.

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Childhood immunisation - while it's a parent's choice as to whether they vaccinate their child, the debate over inoculations is still one many people feel very strongly about.

While some of these diseases, such as polio, might seem rather ‘old fashioned’, it doesn’t mean the diseases no longer exist or can’t be caught by your child.

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“All of the illnesses children are vaccinated against in the UK – including polio, whooping cough, measles, tetanus and diptheria – are less common now than they were in previous generations, but they haven’t all been completely eradicated,” says GP Dr Gill Jenkins. “Every year, there are deaths and severe illnesses in unvaccinated children and adults, so getting your child vaccinated remains as important as ever.”

The latest all-in-one jabs

Protection against more diseases doesn’t mean extra trips to the doctor as many of these vaccines are now given in a single dose, and one injection is less stressful for your child.

But in recent years there’s been debates about their safety and effectiveness – in particular the MMR jab. However, doctors and health experts agree that the all-in-one inoculations are safe and carry no increased risk.

Your choice to immunise

Despite reassurances from doctors, some parents remain concerned abouit the safety of inoculations.

As a result of these concerns, although children in the UK are now vaccinated against more diseases than ever, we have one of the lowest take-up rates for childhood inoculations in the developed world.

In 2005 only eight out of 10 children in the UK were immunised against measles, mumps and rubella. This low figure is a cause for concern as, for infectious diseases such as measles, 90-95% of children need to be immunised in order to protect against an outbreak.

Immunisation in the UK: how do we compare to other nations?

USA
In the USA, a comprehensive childhood immunisation programme offers vaccination against influenza, hepatitis A and hepatitis B, as well as rotavirus gastroenteritis, the most common cause of diarrhoea in children under 5, but none of these are included in the UK vaccination schedule.

And although the meningitis C vaccine has cut levels of the disease by over 95% since its introduction here in 1999, the USA does not have a meningitis C infant programme for babies.

Another difference between the UK and the USA is that inoculations are required before children can attend public schools in America

Africa
The measles toll in many African countries is so high that many mothers don’t name their children until they’ve survived the disease.

In Senegal the measles vaccine is saving many children’s lives – at the cost of just 13p per dose. “We used to bury two or three children every week because of measles. This does not happen any more because our children are immunised,” says Serigne Dame Léye, Headman of the Ngouye Diaraf, a remote village in Senegal.

Other nations
In many parts of the world, parents depend on help from abroad to ensure their babies receive the basic protection we take for granted. In Afghanistan, for example, all vaccines are funded by foreign organisations.

What about chickenpox?

Australia is among the few countries to inoculate against chickenpox using the varicella vaccine, which is said to be 90% effective. Although it was introduced here in 2002 for some adults, such as health workers, there are no plans to make it part of the routine childhood immunisation programme as it’s feared this would lead to more adults developing shingles.

“Differences in programmes across the world may reflect different disease patterns,” says a Department of Health spokesperson. “The immunisation programmes have to be flexible to reflect this.”

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Where to find out more

“Gather as much information as you can beforehand,” says PP’s health visitor, Annette Maloney. “Websites such as www.immunisation.nhs.uk can be useful, too, and your health visitor or GP will be happy to answer any questions you have.

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