What you need to know about vaccines
Parents’ most frequently asked questions about immunization.
Vaccines save 2 to 3 million lives each year. They are essential tools for protecting ourselves and our communities.
However, getting a child's first vaccines can cause a lot of anxiety for parents. We’ve rounded up the most commonly asked questions about these medical marvels to get you and your family the information you need.
What are vaccines?
Vaccines are products that are usually given in childhood to protect against serious, often deadly diseases. By stimulating your body’s natural defenses, they prepare your body to fight the disease faster and more effectively.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines help your immune system fight infections more efficiently by sparking your immune response to specific diseases. Then, if the virus or bacteria ever invades your body in the future, your immune system will already know how to fight it.
Are vaccines safe?
Vaccines are very safe. Your child is far more likely to be hurt by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine. All vaccines go through rigorous safety testing, including clinical trials, before they are approved for the public. Countries will only register and distribute vaccines that meet rigorous quality and safety standards.
What are live vaccines?
Live vaccines contain a version of a living virus or bacteria that has been attenuated (weakened). They teach the immune system to fight viruses and bacteria but because they are weakened, they do not cause disease in people with healthy immune systems.
Why are vaccines important?
Vaccines save lives – 2 to 3 million per year, in fact.
Vaccines will help protect your child against diseases that can cause serious harm or death, especially in people with developing immune systems like infants.
It’s important to vaccinate your child. If not, highly contagious diseases such as measles, diphtheria and polio, which were once wiped out in many countries, will come back.
Can my baby handle all of these vaccines?
Yes. Many parents worry that multiple vaccines will overload their child’s immune system. But children are exposed to hundreds of germs every day. In fact, a common cold or sore throat will put a greater burden on your child’s immune system than vaccines.
But these diseases are not present in my community. Why do I still need to vaccinate my child?
Although the diseases may be eliminated in your country or region, our increasingly interconnected world means that these diseases could spread from areas where they are still present.
What is herd immunity?
If enough people in your community are immunized against a certain disease, you can reach something called herd immunity. When this happens, diseases can’t spread easily from person to person because most people are immune. This provides a layer of protection against the disease even for those who cannot be vaccinated, such as infants.
Herd immunity also prevents outbreaks by making it difficult for the disease to spread. The disease will become more and more rare, sometimes even disappearing entirely from the community.
Can a vaccine cause my baby to get sick?
Vaccines are extremely safe and serious side effects are rare. Almost all sickness or discomfort after vaccination is minor and temporary, such as a soreness at the injection site or mild fever. These can often be controlled by taking over-the-counter pain medication as advised by a doctor, or applying a cold cloth to the injection site. If parents are concerned, they should contact their doctor or health care provider.
What diseases do vaccines prevent?
Vaccines protect your child against serious illnesses like polio, which can cause paralysis; measles, which can cause brain swelling and blindness; and tetanus, which can cause painful muscle contractions and difficulty eating and breathing, especially in newborns.
Can I delay the vaccine schedule?
One of the best ways you can protect your child is to follow the recommended vaccine schedule in your country. Any time you delay a vaccine, you’re increasing your child’s vulnerability to disease.
Can I let my child get the chickenpox instead of getting the vaccine?
Although chickenpox is a mild disease that many parents will remember from childhood (the vaccine was introduced in 1995), some children will develop serious cases with complications that can be fatal or cause permanent disabilities. The vaccine eliminates the risk of complications from the disease, and prevents children from infecting their siblings, friends and classmates.
What is the recommended vaccine schedule?
Immunization schedules vary by country depending on which diseases are most prevalent. You can find an overview of the recommended vaccines and approximate dates from your local health centre, doctor or your government’s Ministry of Health.