Poverty, health concerns and environmental issues are some of India’s biggest problems. In World Health Organization’s (WHO), list of “Ten Threats To Global Health in 2019”, the major problems highlighted are “vaccine hesitancy”, “global influenza pandemic”, “non-communicable diseases”, and “HIV” amongst others (1). To ensure that we are ready to fight even one of these threats, we must proactively choose to get ourselves and our families vaccinated. A simple vaccination can easily prevent serious diseases like influenza, polio and measles. In 2012-2013, the government declared that they would boost child immunisation while focusing on rural areas and slums. In 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare initiated Mission Indradhanush with the aim of vaccinating at least 90% of pregnant women with tetanus shots and to vaccinate children from seven vaccine-preventable diseases (2).
Although preventive measures are taken, a lack of awareness and understanding about vaccination and immunisation kills many Indians each year. When a baby is born, we generally get him/her immunised with vaccines like Hep B, RV, DTap but we tend to ignore influenza or ‘flu’ shots. Why is this the case? Is it because we mistake it for a common cold? Is it because we think it is not a serious disease? Or, is it because we think that healthy people don’t need the vaccination at all? We must keep in mind that the flu can be dangerous and life-threatening if not treated on time. Along with other necessary vaccines, an annual vaccine for influenza is the need of the hour.
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According to the WHO, a vaccine is a substance which is prepared to improve immunity against a disease. A vaccine is generally made from weak or killed forms of disease-causing antigens(3). Most medicines work by curing diseases while vaccines prevent them. Vaccines are usually administered by injection, while some are given orally or nasally. Your body’s immune system fights antigens (germs which are in the vaccine) by making antibodies. Each antibody has a specific function to fight a specific germ. These antibodies also make memory cells to remember the germs in case the disease comes back in the future.
When a person becomes sick, the body automatically makes antibodies to fight the disease. These very antibodies make our body their home even after the disease is cured and protect us from getting the same disease again. This is called “immunity”. The body need not necessarily become sick to develop immunity against a certain disease. One can easily gain immunity against a disease through immunization (vaccination)(4).
Simply put, vaccines save lives. If your child is not vaccinated, not only is he at risk of serious health problems, he is also putting other babies who are too young to be vaccinated or other people with weak immune systems at risk of being infected. Since the introduction of vaccines, many life-threatening diseases like influenza, diphtheria, Hepatitis A & B, mumps, measles, polio and rubella etc have been controlled to a large extent all over the world(5).
Vaccinations and not only effective, they are safe as well. All vaccines are carefully reviewed by scientists, doctors and even the government to ensure that they are safe and effective. Organisations such as American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend vaccinations strongly. It protects children from fatal illnesses which can also cause loss of a limb, paralysis, brain damage and sometimes even death(6).
*Annual Influenza Vaccine to be continued after 18 months.
** DTaP 5th dose to be administered at 4-6 years.
***IPV 4th dose to be administered at 4-6 years.
Influenza or ‘flu’ is a respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Its symptoms range from mild to severe and is a contagious disease. Children who are less than 5 years of age (especially less than 2 years of age), elderly people (65+) and people with weakened immune systems are more at risk for catching the flu. There are two main types of flu virus: Types A and B. A flu vaccine is essential in protecting yourself from the flu(7). The flu vaccine is an annual vaccine that gets updated each year as new strains of flu viruses surface. Hence, a vaccination from last year will not protect you from the flu this year. Flu shots can be given to your child each year, starting at age 6 months(8).
HepB is administered in three shots and the first shot is given at the time of birth. HepB protects against infection of the liver, the leading cause of cancer all over the world, hence, it is also termed as the “anti-cancer vaccine”. The vaccine, if not administered in childhood is also recommended for adults living with diabetes, and those who are prone to infections due to various reasons like poor living conditions, their nature of work etc(9).
Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea related diseases in infants and children. It’s symptoms include fever, abdominal pain and vomiting. Due to this, most infants are often admitted into a hospital. This vaccine helps in protecting against rotavirus, which is a major cause of diarrhea. Depending on the vaccine used, RV is given in two or three doses. 9/10 children are protected from the disease after vaccination(10).
DTaP is used to protect against diphtheria (an infection of the nose and throat), tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). Five doses are given during infancy and childhood. DTaP boosters are also given during adolescence and adulthood. This vaccination is only for children who are younger than 7 years of age(11).
Hib is caused by bacteria and can cause illnesses bacterial meningitis, pneumonia (lung infection) and epiglottitis (throat infection) etc. In infants especially, it can cause infections in different parts of the body, even the lungs and brainsThis vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b. Hib vaccination is given in three or four doses(12).
PCV protects against pneumococcal disease, which also includes pneumonia. PCV is given in a series of four doses. It can also cause ear infections, blood infections and meningitis. It is caused by bacteria that can spread from being in close contact with an infected person. It can also cause deafness and brain damage(13).
IPV protects against polio and is given in four doses(14). Polio, or poliomyelitis is a deadly and infectious disease that is caused by the poliovirus. It is a contagious disease and can also infect a person’s brain and spinal cord which in turn may cause paralysis (15).