At about the age of two months, Canadian infants begin receiving a series of vaccines to prevent a number of diseases. If children get all the shots now recommended by the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), they will have received at least 15 shots by the time they reach adolescence.
Vaccinations prevent serious diseases, such as polio, tetanus and diphtheria, as well as illnesses that can have serious or even life-threatening complications, such as deafness and brain damage. "Immunization is one of the most important -- if not the most important -- achievements we've made in medicine in the last century," says Dr. Michelle Ponti, a pediatrician in London, Ont., and spokesperson for the CPS. Here are five things you and your family should know about vaccinations.
1. Three new vaccines have been added to the list of recommended inoculations for infants and children.
For years children in Canada have received four recommended vaccinations that protect against:
• diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), pertussis (whooping cough) and poliomyelitis (polio);
• Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) (a bacterium that causes illnesses such as meningitis, ear infections, sinusitis and pneumonia);
• measles, mumps and rubella (German measles); and
• hepatitis B.
Now, the CPS recommends that infants receive three newly available inoculations, including:
• the varicella vaccine (chickenpox);
• the pneumococcal vaccine (otitis media, pneumonia and meningitis); and
• the meningococcal vaccine (meningitis).
These newly recommended vaccines are not covered by all provincial health plans. As with all vaccines, "it's important that your child receive [these new ones] â€¦ at the right times to be protected" stresses the CPS. The recommended schedule for these vaccines varies according to province.
Since episodes of whooping cough are showing up among Canadian teenagers, the CPS also recommends that children receive a booster pertussis shot later on, between the ages of 14 and 16.
2. Despite claims to the contrary, no serious side-effects are attributable to vaccines.
The anecdotal link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism, although commonly discussed among parents, is simply not supported by any legitimate scientific research, adds Ponti.
Parents can relax. The most common side-effects that can be pinned on vaccines are rash, soreness at the injection site and, occasionally, mild fever that can be soothed with acetaminophen formulated for children. "I rarely experience parents who are adamant about not having their child vaccinated, but I occasionally experience parents who worry about the possible side-effects from vaccines," notes Ponti.
3. You should consider a flu shot for your infant.
The CPS recommends that infants between the ages of six and 23 months receive an annual flu shot. Studies show that young children are as likely to require hospital care on becoming ill with the flu as vulnerable adults over the age of 65.
4. Adults need vaccines, too.
Adults should receive a tetanus booster shot every 10 years to ensure adequate protection against lockjaw, says Ponti. They should also consider flu shots. "I absolutely recommend parents and grandparents also get the annual flu shot," she adds.
Once they reach 65, Canadians should also consider getting a one-time vaccine against pneumococcus, which protects against infection from a variety of types of pneumococcal bacteria. The original childhood pneumococcal vaccine protects only against strains to which children are particularly prone.
5. Travelling? You may need additional vaccines.
Which vaccines are recommended before travelling depends on where you're going (Africa versus Europe); how long you'll be away (several months versus a few days) and, most importantly, where you'll be staying (in a rural home versus an upscale urban hotel). There is a laundry list of possible vaccines you should consider. Ask your doctor which vaccines you may need.
Whatever you require, plan ahead: it can take several weeks for the body to mount a protective response against a vaccine so you should start thinking about vaccinations two to three months ahead of your scheduled departure.