Why getting your child's vaccinations is more important now than ever
Is your baby overdue a routine jab? Has your child missed a booster injection? Get their vaccines up to date now, says our expert GP, before we all start mixing again socially and common (non-corona) infections start to rise...
The number of babies and children being brought to GP surgeries for their routine immunisations has significantly fallen in the past few months. And that's worrying me.
During lockdown, when everyone was staying at home, there was probably less likelihood of you or your children getting any infectious diseases. But now, with children back at school and nursery, that's no longer the case.
The more we mix, the more opportunity there is for all infections to spread – not just corona. We had significant numbers of cases of infections such as mumps and measles even before lockdown
And then of course, there are some infections which your child can get that aren't spread by person to person contact, such as tetanus.
Lockdowns and corona restrictions have made all of us anxious about leaving home. And maybe people aren't sure if immunisations are still happening when so many GP appointments are taking place on the phone or by video call.
It's true that your GP surgery may not look exactly the same as it used to but it will still be open – and baby and child immunisation programmes have still been running through pretty much the whole period of the coronavirus pandemic.
What will the GP surgery be like if I take my child for vaccinations?Your appointment may feel a little different than it would have been pre-COVID. You may be asked to wait outside and not in the waiting room. You'll probably have to wear a mask, and the nurse administering the vaccines will be wearing a mask, gloves and apron.
While children seem to be the group who do best with coronavirus – they are most likely to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms – there are other infections out there which can be fatal to children or have significant long-term health effects. And it's important to remember that we have vaccines available to help protect your child from these infections.
Other bacteria and viruses simply do not know that a coronavirus pandemic exists. We certainly don't want a measles or polio epidemic to be next
It is really important that you get your child vaccinated, whether they are due for their jabs, should have had them a few weeks or months ago or even if they're coming up to school age and have never been vaccinated until now. It is never too late to get your child vaccinated and keep them safe.
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Can my child get a coronavirus vaccine?Not at the moment. Children the UK cannot currently get a coronavirus vaccine – mainly because children under 16 weren't included in the first trials for vaccines currently available on NHS (AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna), so there was no safety and effectiveness data to back up giving these vaccines to children.
However, since the original trials, there have been new trials specifically for children. And there is now data for the Pfizer vaccine suggesting that it's safe for 12 to 17 year olds – with data on the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine for children expected soon.
Some countries, including Canada, the US and France, have already acted on this new data and started rolling out vaccines to older children.
It's not yet known when coronavirus vaccines will be rolled out to children in the UK. Britain's medicines regulator has approved the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds (June 2021) but the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has yet to make a decision on vaccinating children in this age group.
Is it safe to get my child vaccinated?
Yes, vaccines save lives.
There are lots of concerns parents may have about vaccines. I sometimes hear of the worry that giving vaccines may mean that your child's immune system won't be able to deal with corona if they get it at the same time, or that giving a combined 6-in-1 vaccine will overload the immune system. This is not the case: your child's immune system (and yours) deals with multiple things at once!
There are also concerns about some vaccines containing ingredients like formaldehyde or mercury. For those that do, I can assure you that they contain minute amounts – far less than occur naturally in all sorts of food.
If you do have questions or concerns – big or small – please speak to your health visitor, nurse or GP. They will be happy to listen and answer.
As a mother, I know it is not pleasant to hear your baby cry during a vaccine but the short-term discomfort has to be balanced against the fact that vaccines will keep your child safe in the long term.