Written by Dr Nické Theron, Pediatrician.

“Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”

Albert Einstein

Alyssa’s son just had his 18 month vaccinations, and Adiné just had her 6 month measles vaccination.  I know this is a highly debated topic, but I want to share some of the basic facts to give you a foundation to build your understanding on, and help you to prepare for your baby’s immunisation-journey.

In 1798 the first vaccine was developed after it was found that a 13 year old boy, that was injected with the “cowpox-virus”, became immune against the dreaded small pox disease. Since then, vaccines have come a long way in safety and efficiency. It has saved the lives of millions of children and has contributed to the fact that many horrible diseases are almost extinct. Thanks to vaccines we do not know how horrible it is to see a child suffocating from diphtheria, have severe muscle spasms from tetanus or become totally paralysed from polio. 

How do vaccines work?

I like to think of the immune system as an army ready to protect you against danger. The immune system sends out “soldiers” to attack the intruder, and this battle causes symptoms such as fever, runny nose, body pain, swelling etc. (inflammation). The severity of symptoms depends on the number of soldiers and the size/number of intruders.  

Once an attack was executed successfully, the immune system develops a memory against this specific intruder. The next time it is encountered in the body, the soldiers already have the necessary skills to deal with this specific threat without causing symptoms.

Vaccines contain either a small part of a virus/bacteria or a weakened, live version of the virus that causes a response in the immune system because it is recognised as an intruder.

Vaccines thus act as mini-intruders to “train” the immune system, to create memory-cells without the body experiencing the symptoms of the original virus or a severe immune response against it. Sometimes the immune system needs to be trained a few times for enough memory-cells to be formed, and that is why your baby needs repeated doses of the same vaccination. 

Sometimes the memory cells are formed in such a way that the child can still become infected by the virus/bacteria, but will not develop any of the severe symptoms or complications.

If enough children in a community have immunity against a disease it also protects the children who could not be immunised, or who did not form any memory cells (children with immune-diseases) because the disease has no way to spread between the immunised children.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you”.

Isaiah 26:3

Practical tips when your little one has to go for vaccinations:

  • Try to find a clinic/sister/doctor that provides immunisations free of charge. It can be very expensive if you have to pay for it privately, and until 6 months the public and private schedules are the same.
  • Be confident that you are doing the best to protect your baby and go to the appointment with that mind-set. It is upsetting to see your baby cry because of pain, and it is okay if you cry too! Try to have some support for the first visit.
  • Remember to take your Road to Health booklet issued by the hospital at birth. It is important that the health worker document the Batch numbers of the vaccinations. Many pre-schools will ask to see your child’s immunization record before enrolling your child.
  • Pain management: Do not give any pain medication before your appointment as it can have an anti-inflammatory effect and thus decrease the immune response to the vaccination. You can give Syrup Symplex (a sweet sucrose syrup that soothes baby) a few minutes before the injection. Breastmilk also contains analgetic components, so you can breastfeed during or directly after the injections. Sucking is also comforting so provide a bottle/dummy if you are not breastfeeding. Distraction works wonders for older babies. Give a lot of cuddles and TLC.
  • Local Anaesthesic ointments are also great for preventing the pain of injections. Ask your health care worker to apply some Emla gel on the area that will be vaccinated 1 hour before the injections are given. 
  • You can give Paracetamol from 6 hours after the vaccination if your baby develops fever or discomfort.
  • The injection site can look a little red and swollen a few hours after the injection. If this persists for more than a day / gets progressively worse, please contact your health care worker.
  • A mild fever (below 39’C) is normal and is a sign that the immune system is responding.
  • Please report any other side effects to your health care worker. Immunisation reactions are closely monitored.
  • If you have missed any vaccines, please contact your health care worker ASAP to start a catch-up program.  Some vaccinations should not be given after 2 years and all vaccinations that has multiple booster doses has a minimum interval between the doses. If you missed any vaccinations, please sit with your health care worker to develop a catch-up plan specifically for your child.

Below see the Immunisation schedule for South Africa, both Public and Private.

Please let me know if you have any further questions. There are many scary articles and videos out there about the “dangers of vaccinations”, please check the credentials of what you read or watch. While I want you to make informed decisions for your children, do not let fear mongers manipulate you into making emotional decisions. I hope we can walk this road together.

Below is a link to more information about SA’s immunisations, and an Australian site that has very valuable information about immunisations in general:

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