There are a number of vaccinations that the NHS recommends to all babies and toddlers in the UK. Here we take you through the recommended list, what the vaccines are and what diseases they cover.
Babies are born already protected against some diseases. This is because they have antibodies passed to them from their mother via the placenta. However this immunity only lasts for a few weeks. The advice to vaccinate babies is based on the need to help babies produce the antibodies to help them fight diseases. Once they have received the vaccine if a baby comes into contact with a disease they have been vaccinated against, their bodies will recognise it and know what to do to combat it.
The main element of any vaccine is the disease causing virus itself, you will also see this referred to as the vaccine antigen. Vaccines contain both killed and live versions of the virus or bacteria. Killed, or inactivated vaccines, are generally weaker hence the need for several doses. Live vaccines have been weakened but not killed in the lab. Live vaccines often give lifelong protection. The patient information leaflet will contain a complete list of what is contained in a vaccination.
Some parents have been concerned that some vaccines have contained thiomersal which contains mercury. This is added to vaccines to prevent the growth of bacteria or fungi. The World Health Organisation has stated that there is no risk from thiomersal in vaccines.
In addition to the above concern some religious groups have expressed concern that some vaccines contain gelatin derived from pigs. Gelatin is used in some vaccines to provide a stabilising agent. The only vaccines in the UK containing gelatin are the MMR, shingles and the children’s nasal flu vaccine. Many religious leaders have given permission for people to have vaccines containing gelatin but again the NHS will be able to advise you if you have any concerns.
The guidance from the NHS is that a baby’s body can cope with the immunisation schedule. The argument is that babies are exposed on a daily basis to bacteria and viruses that occur naturally around them and get stronger as a result.
As a young baby/small child, it is vitally important not to overload the body's immune system and so there is a strict timetable for when key vaccinations are given. They are also combined where different ones don't impede or interfere with each other.
There are a number of vaccinations given. They are as follows:
This is given as a single jab and protects against 6 separate diseases-diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, haemophilus influenza type b known as hib, a bacterial infection and hepatitis B.
You may also see this referred to as the pneumo jab or pneumonia vaccine. Essentially it vaccinates against pneumococcal infections.
Rotavirus is a stomach bug that strikes babies and causes diarrhoea. This is an oral vaccine that is given as two doses for babies aged 8 and 12 weeks.
This protects babies against infection by meningococcal group B bacteria. These infections can cause meningitis and septicaemia.
At 12 weeks the second dose of the 6 in 1 vaccine is recommended and the second dose of the rotavirus vaccine is recommended.
At 16 weeks the recommendation is that the third dose of the 6 in 1 vaccine should be given, a second dose of Pneumococcal vaccine and second dose of men B vaccine.
Hib/Men C vaccine is recommended which is one jab containing vaccines against meningitis C and the fourth dose of Hib.
This vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella which are serious illnesses which can cause potentially fatal complications. A second jab is recommended at around the age of three. The vaccine is given into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm. This vaccine has attracted a lot of controversy over the years following a study by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998 who linked the MMR vaccine to autism in children. This study has now been discredited and Dr Wakefield was struck off in the UK. The NHS in the UK are clear in their guidance that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism or bowel disease.
A third dose is also recommended for the Pneumococcal vaccine and men B vaccine.
There are always questions and concerns raised about vaccinating babies. Here we attempt to highlight the main concerns and issues. As always if you have any concerns about your baby then always consult your GP. Detailed information can be found on the UK NHS website.
You will be called to your local surgery when your baby is due a vaccination. If you have any concerns then talk to your GP or nurse. Do remember to take your red book with you, this is called Personal Child Health Record (PCHR). This record can be helpful in the future if your child’s school asks for vaccination information.
Vaccines can be stressful both for the parent and the baby. Get to the clinic with plenty of time to spare and try to stay as calm as you can. Your baby will sense your anxiety so try to remain as calm as you can. You will be asked to hold your baby whilst the injection(s) are given.
It is not unusual to see some redness around the injection. Some mild fevers can develop and you are advised to give infant paracetamol. It is rare to get a more extreme reaction but an anaphylactic reaction can occur. This is where the body’s defence system overreacts. Symptoms to look out for include breathing difficulties, wheezing, and clammy skin. This is not an exhaustive list. If you have any concerns then seek immediate medical help.
It is also really helpful to put your baby in loose clothing so that the injection can easily be given. Babies under 12 months have injections in the thigh.