Minimising Risks: Important tips for those who decide to vaccinate

healthy familySo far, a lot of my blogs have been for those on the ‘we’ve decided not to vaccinate’ side of the fence – so I figured it was time to write one for those of you who have decided to go the other way and have your children vaccinated. Just to shake things up a little!! This one goes out to you guys, with some tips and info you’ll need to know before you take the plunge.

1. Research, research, research

This goes without saying – and if you’re reading this blog, it’s more than likely you’re already doing it. Regardless of whether or not you decide to vaccinate, it’s important that you understand all the risks and benefits that are involved in the process. Make sure you’re absolutely sure of what you’re doing. Ask your doctor questions – and if they get grumpy or dismissive, call them out on it and keep on asking. You deserve answers – real ones, not brief summative ones! There’s no such things as a stupid question, particularly when it comes to something as potentially life-changing as vaccination. Read up on both sides of the debate. Understand what you’re giving your child.

2. Do we need this vaccine right now?

A lot of people who decide to vaccinate their children do so with a delayed schedule. Effectively, this means looking at each vaccine on its own merits and working out exactly when each one is necessary, and delaying it until you feel your child is mature enough to be able to handle it adequately. This can be particularly important for children who were born prematurely – vaccinating them according to due date rather than birth date (i.e. if a child is born four weeks early, rather than giving them the ‘six week jabs’ six weeks after birth, delaying it until ten weeks after birth, when they would be six weeks old according to due date). Premature babies are often born with a number of early issues that need to be resolved before their little bodies are mature enough to handle the contents of the vaccine – waiting until they’re stronger and healthier is a smart move to prevent any potential adverse events.

In some countries, such as Japan, vaccination doesn’t start until children are two years old – and in doing this, potentially related problems such as SIDS are drastically reduced. Following a similar schedule with your children can be a great compromise if you’re wary of vaccinating babies but still want your children vaccinated. In doing this you allow your child to hit many important developmental milestones and to develop their own immune system and strengths enough to handle the vaccines better, and it can also make any reactions more obvious. For example, if a baby reacts poorly to a vaccine their signs of distress may not be as obvious as a two-year-old who suddenly stops talking and walking.

3. How healthy is my child currently?

Manufacturers warn in their own datasheets (available via the Medsafe website and very important to read before accepting each vaccine – www.medsafe.govt.nz) not to vaccinate a child who has a fever or has been ill recently. This greatly increases the risks of them having a serious reaction, as their system is in a weakened state and immune system already fighting things off. Giving them a vaccine at this time, when they’re already compromised, which is full of toxic substances and viral fragments/attenuated viruses/etc can tip the balance and overwhelm their little bodies. Waiting until they are healthy and strong again is very important – while many doctors are aware of this and will advise waiting, there are many others who are a little ‘gung-ho’ in their approach to this and will encourage a parent to vaccinate regardless, fearful that they won’t return to the practice for the vaccination any time soon and preferring to vaccinate the child while they’re already there. For your child’s sake, if this is the case, say no and bring them back when they’re healthy.

4. Minimising the dangers

Taking Vitamin C before and after a vaccine can help minimise the risk of injury and aid the body’s response to the ingredients contained therein. Sodium ascorbate is the best form to take, with powders being the easiest and most cost-effective. For infants, a tiny pinch is all that is needed a couple of times a day in water, formula, or mixed with milk or water and smeared onto the nipple prior to breastfeeding in breastfed babies. Likewise, breastfeeding will help the baby’s immune system response and assist in clearing out any nasties in the vaccine, and also help in the case of poor reactions. Breastmilk really is the perfect food for babies (and if you are thinking about vaccinating, it’s worth reading up on how many antibodies breastmilk contains and the way it can effectively act as a ‘vaccine’ itself…).

5. Thinking about each disease individually – do I really need each one?

Rather than allowing yourself to give in to the fear, it can pay to read up on the risks of each disease you’re vaccinating against. Many people choose to skip some vaccines and create their own select schedule, containing only the ones they feel are necessary. In many countries now, for example, newborns are vaccinated against Hepatitis B – risk factors for which are unprotected sex and intravenous drug use. Is your newborn likely to be injecting themselves with drugs or sleeping around? So why, if there isn’t anybody around them with the virus, give them the vaccine against it? This isn’t the case in New Zealand, but is a great example of the merits of selective schedules.

In New Zealand now, children are being encouraged to be vaccinated against chicken pox – which, like many other ‘vaccine-preventable’ diseases, was a routine, run-of-the-mill, shrug-your-shoulders illness everybody got just a generation ago. Like all viruses, there will of course be the occasional child who suffers badly or perhaps even dies as a result (generally those who already have major illness going on and are already weakened, in a state where even the common cold could cause serious problems), but think how many people you personally know who had any major ill effects from chicken pox…

Even ‘the biggie’, tetanus, isn’t a particularly common problem – see my previous blog for a brief overview of the risks of this particular disease.

6. Know your family history

It’s also a good idea to ask your family if anybody has suffered an adverse reaction to a vaccine in the past – is there a history of reactions amongst your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters? How did you react to them as a baby? Is there a history of clotting disorders, stroke, developmental or learning disorders, mitochondrial disorders, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, etc etc? This can be worth knowing in case of predisposing factors that may put your child at increased risk of an adverse reaction.

So you see, even if you do decide to vaccinate, there are many mitigating factors to consider. Do we get them all on time? Do we delay the schedule until they’re a little older and stronger and better able to cope? Do we only choose the ones we see as being most important? Do they even work? What are the New Zealand statistics for these diseases – how many people who contracted the illness were vaccinated vs unvaccinated this year? Has my child been ill recently? Do we know what to do in case of reaction?

Big questions, but hopefully this blog has given you a little food for thought and some ideas on what to think about to minimise the risks of vaccination and leave your child as safe and as healthy as possible during the process. Good luck!!