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 autumn – and the school term – sets in and common (non-corona) infections start to rise again...

baby getting vaccination

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.

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During the spring/early summer 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
Dr Philippa Kaye, expert family GP

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.

Now that we’re living in a world full of restrictions because we don’t yet have a vaccine for coronavirus, it’s easy to forget that we do have vaccines for many other childhood (and adult) illnesses.

And, 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.

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
Dr Philippa Kaye, expert family GP

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.

What’s happening with the coronavirus vaccine?

There are multiple COVID-19 vaccines being investigated accross the globe at the moment – including the German/US BioNTech/Pfizer one that’s the first vaccine in the world to be shown to be effective. In the UK, there are 2 other front runners:

  • The Oxford vaccine. This is in the 2nd/3rd stage of trials, and it’s hoped it might be ready for use by the end of the year. It is a traditional vaccine which uses a chimpanzee cold virus that has been made harmless to humans and changed to have a spike of protein from coronavirus on its surface. This is then injected into you. Your body’s immune system ‘sees’ the protein and develops both antibodies and, the most recent research suggests, cellular immunity as well. A recent paper published in The Lancet has shown that it is currently working as expected and does not cause significant adverse effects.
  • The Imperial vaccine. This is an mRNA vaccine, which is made with a new kind of technology. A piece of code from the coronavirus is injected into the body. This ‘tells’ your body’s cells to produce the coronavirus protein spike. Your body then recognises this and creates an immune response. This vaccine is in a slightly earlier phase of development than the Oxford vaccine.

There is also a vaccine trial running at Cambridge University that involves a DNA vaccine that will be needle-free – delivered via a burst of air through the skin.

Who will get the vaccine first?

When a vaccine does become available – and it’s looking likely that the BioNTech/Pfizer one could become available at the end of 2020/early 2021 – it is likely that it will be offered first to those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19: those in care homes, for example, and the elderly.

It is also likely to be offered as a priority to healthcare professionals and people working in care homes – to try to stop them spreading the infection.

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 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.

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