Public health interventions, like any other, may be viewed through different lenses.
We may either accept vaccination, or realise its importance but may need information, clarification or support or may be reluctant about vaccination or specific vaccines, while being fully informed. Efficient health systems transform diverse human attitudes, understanding this as a potentially modifiable continuum.
It’s well-timed that parents discuss vaccination. If concerned or doubtful about its safety, discuss this with the professional health worker for clarification. Even if it’s as simple as a transport issue to get your child to the vaccination centre, it’s important to you and could make the difference.
If you’re apprehensive about vaccinating your child, it’s an understandable feeling because we love and want the best for them, and may naturally be nervous about it. With Internet, parents already know quite a bit about vaccines but professional health workers could provide more personalised, relevant information. Discussion on pain relief before, during and after vaccination may alleviate anxiety. Methods to cope with common side effects are stressed too.
Nothing is 100 per cent safe, and understanding the scientific consensus about vaccines is important. If there are strong feelings about a specific vaccine, they are respected and deserve responsible discussion for clarification. Unbiased studies and research consensus assist in helping you make up your mind. Parents should feel welcome to engage with outlook and concerns about vaccination. A follow-up appointment to discuss at a later date is fine, if there’s too much information to ‘digest’ in one visit.
Clinical trials determine the age vaccines are given and dose intervals. Infants need early infection protection because their immune systems are immature. Vaccinating too late leaves children unprotected and vaccinating too early may not elicit a protective immune response.
Vaccines may be repeated for lasting immunity. Viral strains may differ every year, as for the influenza virus, and vaccinations need to be effective against them. Not everyone responds to the first dose predictably, so repeat doses are required. Disease patterns may require extra doses or stand-alone vaccines (measles in Sabah, Japanese Encephalitis in Sarawak).
Adhering to schedules and keeping records are important, but don’t worry if a vaccine is missed or if records are misplaced. There’s no need to restart the vaccine series, as vaccines can be given from where you’ve left off.
Charity to community
We are being charitable, as we wish to be, when we vaccinate ourselves and the children. A community protected from measles by vaccination is also protected from malnutrition, malaria and non-measles illnesses with fewer overall deaths from illnesses. A well vaccinated community, through herd immunity, extends protection to those who can’t be vaccinated for genuine reasons.
Unvaccinated communities struggle with infectious outbreaks, preventable diseases and avoidable death.
Successful vaccination has eradicated smallpox. Vaccinating against German Measles prevents fetal malformations, promoting well-being across generations.
Some vaccines prevent cancers and concepts being researched like “trained immunity” could be useful before specific vaccines (COVID-19) are discovered.
Dr Prameela Kannan Kutty is Professor of Paediatrics at Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia.