Immunisation

Deciding whether to give my child DTaP/IPV/Hib, Men C and pneumococcal vaccines

In the United Kingdom, it is recommended that babies have the following immunisations at two, three and four months of age to protect them against several infectious diseases; DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough)), poliomyelitis (polio), and haemophilus influenzae type b, (Hib), meningitis and epiglottis, known as DTaP/IPV/Hib. The 5 in 1 vaccine was introduced in September 2004. Meningococcal C and B (meningitis and septicaemia) and pneumococcal (pneumonia and meningitis) vaccines are also with DTaP/IPV/Hib, (see ‘What is immunisation?’ and ‘Why do we immunise?’).

The considerable majority of parents believe in immunisation for their children. We have however included here the views of a few parents who do not believe immunisation is right for their own child based on their personal beliefs. Their views represent a small proportion of the population. 

The vast majority of parents we interviewed decided to have their child immunised. Many said it had not been a difficult decision to make, that they acted on the recommendations of their GP, their midwife, their health visitor and the practice nurse and they saw no reason to be concerned with these first immunisations.  

The vast majority of parents believed that the consequences of not having their child immunised could be serious and they wanted peace of mind to know they had protected their child as best they could against these diseases.  

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Some parents who had concerns about inflicting short-term pain on their child and not being able to explain why, nevertheless concluded that immunisation was the best course for their baby. Some were worried about how their child might react to the injection. But most found that discussing their anxieties with their health visitor or practice nurse helped them overcome them. 

Every parent should have access to a trained health professional to chat about the risks of catching the diseases and about the benefits and potential risks of immunisation for their own child, and the population in general. In addition to their GP, health visitor or practice nurse, there is also an immunisation advisor in each local health protection unit, whom parents can talk to about their child's immunisations.

One mother, who had her first daughter immunised in Germany had concerns when deciding about immunisations in the UK for her second baby that the programme didn't take in to account a child's individual needs. Minor illnesses, such as a cold without a fever, are not a reason to delay immunisation. If a baby has a fever it is best to put off the immunisation until they have fully recovered. If parents are worried they should discuss their concerns with the person giving the immunisation.

A very small number of parents did not believe immunisation was right for their own child, based on their personal beliefs, and chose not to give their child these first immunisations. They stressed that it hadn't been an easy decision to make, nor one they had taken lightly, and they were continually reassessing their decision when any changes were introduced and that they may immunise when their children were older. 

A few of these parents personally believed that building up their child's immune system, through diet and homeopathy, would make them less vulnerable to infectious diseases or make up for them not being immunised. There is no evidence that this in any way substitutes for the protection given by immunisations. The protection against measles, mumps and the other vaccine-preventable diseases comes from antibodies (immunity) which is specific for each disease. This specific protection can be produced only if the immune system is stimulated by the vaccine or the natural infection. General measures to strengthen the immune system do not give the protection against the disease and its complications. 

A small number of these parents were concerned about the ability of their child's immune system to cope with a number of vaccines at two, three and four months of age. A few were worried that not enough was known about the long-term side effects of immunisations, or that vaccine production was driven by financial motives. A couple of parents held a personal belief that while immunisations were good for the majority of children some children might be adversely affected by immunisations and that their child might be one of those children. A child who has a nervous system (neurological) disease, including epilepsy, should have their condition assessed. If the condition is stable, the vaccine can be given. If the condition is not stable, immunisation should be delayed until further assessment shows the condition to be stable.

Thiomersal, a non toxic form of mercury, (ethyl rather than methyl mercury) is now not included at any stage of the production of the 5 in 1 (DTaP/IPV/Hib) vaccine. There is also absolutely no evidence that thiomersal has ever done any harm to the millions of babies who had received the vaccine containing it, although for the occasional parent it was an additional reason for deciding not to immunise their child.

Deciding to continue with the immunisation programme after their child had a reaction
A small number of parents whose child had experienced a reaction following one of the first immunisations felt anxious about what decision to make about completing the course. Talking to a specialist, referred through their GP, had given these parents the information and reassurance they needed and they decided to continue with the immunisation schedule. 

Feelings now about the decision they made
Most parents said after their child had been immunised that they were happy with the decision they had made. The couple of parents whose child had had a reaction still felt they had made the right decision because they now had peace of mind that their child was protected against several infectious diseases.

The very small number of parents who chose not to immunise their children also generally felt that they had made the right decision. Some said they had days when they didn't know for sure but they were fairly sure that they had.  

A couple of parents personally believed that their un-immunised child had suffered fewer childhood ailments than their other immunised children. The scientific evidence suggests that immunised children are healthier than un-immunised children.


 

Last reviewed October 2015.
Last updated October 2015.

 

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