What every family needs to know about vaccines

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These days, most of us will be vaccinated at various stages of our lives against a variety of diseases.

A vaccination programme normally starts from birth and continues all the way through to later life, depending on a person’s individual circumstances.

A vaccine works by stimulating the body’s immune system to react and fight off a disease without actually giving the recipient the condition itself.

This means if the person comes into contact with the actual disease at a later date, the immune system will recognise it and be able to fight it off.

So let’s look at the different types of vaccinations.

Routine vaccinations will be offered to all children in the UK against diseases such as polio, meningitis C, measles, mumps and rubella at various times, depending on age.

Non-routine vaccinations are those offered in addition to the routine programme and are normally given to those children in high risk groups, such as those with weakened immune systems.

These vaccinations cover diseases such as tuberculosis, chickenpox and hepatitis B.

Teenagers will also be offered a booster of tetanus, diphtheria and polio.

And girls aged 12 or 13 will be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which has been shown to cause cervical cancer.

For adults, vaccinations are normally given purely to those in high risk categories.

Examples of this include flu jabs for older people who may be more susceptible to contracting the condition, and hepatitis B, for those who have chronic kidney and liver conditions as well as those at a higher occupational risk, such as health care workers.

The other major types of vaccinations are those needed when travelling to foreign countries where there is a high chance of contracting a disease.

Conditions such as yellow fever, rabies and cholera may be prevalent in areas such as Asia, Africa and South America, so it is important that you get medical advice on which vaccinations you may need before you travel.

Other conditions may already be covered by vaccinations you have had in the UK, such as those against tetanus or meningitis.

Ideally, you need to have your vaccinations about four weeks prior to travelling so that your body can build up a good immunity.

Visit your GP or travel vaccination nurse to find out what injections you might need and when you have to have them.

So what are the benefits and potential drawbacks?

When considering whether to receive a vaccination – either for yourself or for your children – it is natural to think about the potential side effects as well as the benefits.

In terms of side effects, it is normal for some people to have redness or swelling for a short time where the injection was given, although this should not last for long.

In children, another potential side effect is very short-term high temperature, but again, this should disappear quickly.

It is possible for some people to suffer an allergic reaction to vaccinations.

This can include a rash or itchiness which covers some or all of the body.

In some very rare cases, an anaphylactic reaction can take place, leading to breathing difficulties.

However, on the rare occasions that these reactions happen, the vaccination staff are trained to deal with them and reactions are fully treatable if dealt with quickly.

While vaccinations are not 100 per cent effective in every person, they are the best way to protect against serious and potentially fatal diseases.

If you have concerns or questions about any aspect of vaccination, speak to your GP or another health professional, who will be able to provide advice and guidance.