What are vaccines?
Vaccines are a form of disease prevention. Infants build up their natural immunity against diseases from their mother and through breastfeeding. This immunity tends to fade by the age of 6 months. Vaccines help to stimulate your child’s immune system by teaching it to recognise and respond to a disease. Exposure to vaccines will help your child’s body develop antibodies to fight off germs when they are next exposed to them.
What are vaccines made of?
Vaccines usually consist of a ‘safe’ form of the disease-causing germ, where the germ is weakened or killed. Some vaccines are in the form of a toxoid. ‘Adjuvants’ are used in some vaccines to help increase the immune response in the body.
What do vaccines protect against?
Vaccinations are not only important for the health of an individual, they also help in community or national disease prevention.
The National Childhood Immunisation Programme (NCIP) in Singapore includes a variety of vaccinations that protect against several diseases. These diseases are:
- Haemophilus Influenzae Type B
- Hepatitis B
- Human Papillomavirus
- Pneumococcal Disease
Other diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations include:
- Hepatitis A
- Varicella (chickenpox)
Do consult your child’s doctor to find out more.
Mandatory vaccines for children in Singapore
Although it is recommended to get as much protection against diseases as possible, only vaccinations against diphtheria and measles are compulsory by law in Singapore.
For the other vaccinations that aren’t compulsory, parental consent is required. Data from the Ministry of Health show that close to 100% of children in Singapore have been vaccinated in the last decade.
The results of an effective immunisation programme
Because of the high acceptance of vaccines in Singapore, the incidence rates of several diseases have drastically decreased over the years.
- Measles decreased from 1,413 cases in 1997, to only 136 in 2017
- Rubella decreased from 48 cases in 2013 to just 12 cases in 2016
- Acute hepatitis B for all age groups declined from 243 in 1985 to 47 cases in 2016
Vaccinations are administered to infants soon after birth and throughout childhood. Most vaccines require more than one dose for adequate coverage.
- Tuberculosis vaccine (BCG) is given at birth.
- Hepatitis B vaccine is given at birth, with the subsequent doses given at 1 month of age and 5 – 6 months of age. These can also be given as part of the combination 6-in-1 vaccine.
- Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis vaccines are given in 3 doses between 2 – 6 months old. Two boosters are given at 18 months and between 10 and 11 years old.
- Haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine is given in 3 doses between 2 – 6 months old, with a booster at 18 months of age.
- Poliovirus vaccine is given in 3 doses between 2 – 6 months old; with boosters at 18 months and between 10 – 11 years old.
- Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccines are given at 12 months, and between 15 – 18 months of age.
- Pneumococcal Disease vaccines are given between 2 – 6 months old, with a booster at 12 months of age.
- Human Papillomavirus vaccine is recommended for females aged 9 – 26 years. The initial dose is followed by two doses 2 and 6 months later.
Side effects of vaccines
Vaccines are safe, as they are rigorously tested before they are certified ready for use. The benefits of vaccines far outweigh their risks.
Like any medicine, your child may experience some vaccine-related side effects. Most of these are mild and temporary.
- Muscle aches
- Soreness and redness near the injection site
Rarely, serious adverse effects like allergic reactions may occur.
Do consult your doctor first if your child has a weak or suppressed immune system, or if there is a family or personal history of vaccine reactions.
How do I care for my child after the vaccination?
If your child experiences mild vaccine reactions such as pain at the injection site, a rash, or a fever; here are some steps you can take at home:
- Give your child a cool sponge bath to reduce any fever. Antipyretics like paracetamol can also be given (after approval by your child’s doctor).
- Ensure your child stays hydrated with lots of fluids.
- Use a cool, wet cloth to reduce any redness and swelling at the injection site.
Discuss more with your child’s doctor regarding the specific side-effects for each vaccine. Call your doctor if you notice anything unusual with your child.
Article reviewed by Dr Petrina Wong, paediatrician at Gleneagles Hospital
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