Frequently asked questions on immunization of children
Answers to help parents make an informed and positive decision regarding their child’s health
In the context of India, immunization has historically played a vital role in not just supporting communities medically but also financially and socially.
Early childhood diseases often lead to disabilities and negatively impact households' income and social status. immunization helps to ensure children remain healthy and protected from various preventive illnesses caused by pathogens.
Due to proactive immunization campaigns, certain serious diseases have been eradicated or controlled. But at the same time, new infectious diseases are appearing too; thus, focusing on immunization becomes all the more critical.
Here we have compiled a set of Frequently Asked Questions on immunization for parents to help them make an informed and positive decision regarding their child’s health.
What is immunization?
Immunization is when a child gets doses of vaccine administered to them either by injection or by oral drops against infectious disease, thus resulting in the development of immunity against the contagious disease.
What are the benefits of immunization for my child?
Immunization protects children against certain severe and preventable diseases by administering vaccines and oral drops. If not tackled by immunization, these diseases may lead to infections that could seriously affect the child’s health and even result in death.
Does my child have natural protection against diseases?
Babies are born with natural protection from their mother while in the womb and after birth through breastfeeding but only against some diseases. This protection gradually begins to fade as they grow, making them vulnerable to certain conditions. Immunization by vaccines and oral doses boost this declining immunity and protect their health.
How do vaccines protect my child from disease-causing organisms?
Vaccines protect against different infections through activating a protective substance in the blood (known as “antibodies”), which kills the disease-causing organisms or neutralises their effect when they enter the body.
Vaccines contain a weaker/killed/partial form of the disease-causing agent (bacteria or virus). When introduced into the child’s body, they activate a protective response against a targeted pathogen by generating specific antibodies without causing the disease itself to the child.
These antibodies, once produced, protect the child in case of a subsequent episode of infection.
Does the protection due to vaccination stay for the child’s entire life?
The protection developed after vaccination usually lasts for many years and can protect from the disease in most cases. Even if the child does get the disease after being vaccinated, the symptoms will be much milder than symptoms in a child who was never vaccinated against the disease.
For some vaccines, booster doses are given to children to increase the protection up to an optimum level.
At what age should immunization start for any child?
Under the Universal Immunization Programme, immunization for children starts as soon as a child is born. Vaccination against childhood tuberculosis (BCG), polio (OPV) and maternally transmitted Hepatitis B (Hep B vaccine) are given to a child immediately after birth.
After this, specific vaccines are given at recommended ages as outlined in National Immunization Schedule.
Why is timely vaccination important for my child?
Vaccines give maximum protection when provided at the right age and in the required number of doses. Children are susceptible to certain diseases at a certain age.
Therefore, to prevent harm caused by the disease, vaccines are provided at that particular age. For example, the occurrence of polio is maximum in children below five years of age; hence, vaccination against polio is given in routine immunization and campaigns to children below five years of age.
Similarly, the number of doses required is determined by the level of protection needed to prevent serious infections. The National Immunization Schedule mentions different vaccines, the ages at which they are given, and the doses required to ensure complete protection from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Why are some vaccines not administered to children who have reached a certain age?
The child's age at the time of administration of a particular vaccine is based on research and data. Usually, vaccines are given to children at the most susceptible age to getting infected.
After achieving a certain age, children acquire natural protection from some infections (like childhood tuberculosis) or have already crossed the period when the disease could have been life-threatening. Therefore, these children after a specific age do not require vaccination.
What should be done if there is a delay in getting the child vaccinated?
If due, for some reason, there is a delay in receiving a vaccine or any dose of vaccines, vaccination should be provided as early as possible.
Please contact the ASHA in your area and ANM to ensure that your child receives the pending vaccines. It is essential to understand that there is no need to restart the entire schedule in case of delay. Instead, the remaining program should be continued as recommended and completed.
How much will it cost to get my child vaccinated?
Vaccines are costly, and the Government spends a lot of money procuring them, storing and transporting them at the correct temperature.
However, all immunization services, including vaccines, syringes, mother and Child protection cards, and medicines and supplements (Paracetamol, ORS, Zinc and Vitamin A), are given free at government health facilities. Similarly, immunization services for pregnant women are also provided free of charge at government health facilities.
Where can we get our children vaccinated?
You can visit any government health facility, including hospitals, medical colleges, urban dispensaries, Primary Health Centres (PHCs), Community Health Centres (CHCs), sub-centres and Anganwadi Centres, get your children vaccinated.
In villages and some urban areas (like slums and mohallas), ANMs organise immunization sessions to provide immunization services to children.
The government health department has ensured that immunization services are available near you. It is essential to understand that vaccines are not offered house to house under the National Immunization Schedule, except in unique campaigns and drives like polio.
What vaccines are given to a newborn?
According to the National Immunization Schedule, one dose of each of these three vaccines - OPV, BCG and Hepatitis B are given to newborns irrespective of the place of delivery.
We had heard of cases when a child suffered from a disease although they had been vaccinated against it. If so, what is the use of taking vaccines?
Vaccines have been used for a long time and have proven effective. But like any other medicine, no vaccine is 100% effective. The level of protection generated by a vaccine may vary from one child to another due to differences in the immune system's response.
Thus, the disease can occur in some children even after vaccination against that disease. However, in such cases, the severity of the disease is much less compared to children who have never been vaccinated.
If any child has got infected or has suffered from some disease in the past, will they still require vaccination against that disease?
Yes. Most diseases (for example, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Rotavirus diarrhoea, Hib pneumonia and Japanese Encephalitis) only result in short-term protection even after full-blown infection and illness. Therefore, in these cases, a child will still require all recommended doses of the vaccine as per the immunization schedule.
What precautions should I take after getting my child vaccinated?
You must wait for half an hour at the session site after vaccination to ensure immediate care and response in case there is any minor adverse event.
Continue breastfeeding or complementary feeding after vaccination, even after oral vaccines.
You must ensure that no medicine or herb is applied to the injection site.
Consult the ANM/vaccinator or the medical officer of any government health facility nearby if your child develops any adverse event.
My child was delivered by surgery (caesarean section) and was born before nine months. Can they be vaccinated?
Yes, your child must be vaccinated as per the National Immunization Schedule. Vaccination should be provided to all children. It does not matter if:
They are delivered by surgery, or it is standard delivery.
They are delivered at a private or government health facility or home.
They are delivered before completing nine months of gestation.
The mother is suffering from any medical condition.
The child is underweight at the time of birth.
Can vaccines cause allergy?
Some children may be allergic to certain vaccines or components (like antibiotics or preservatives), and vaccine administration in such children can result in an allergic reaction, like itching or the appearance of red spots on the body after vaccination.
If there is any history of allergy, please ensure to take medical advice from a qualified medical practitioner before any immunization.