World Immunization Day 2020: Savitha (name changed), a new mom is postponing vaccinations for her 10 week old daughter because she fears her family could contract COVID 19 or another infection if they visit a hospital. She says she typically has her children vaccinated but is being ultra-cautious about interactions outside of their home during the ongoing pandemic. Many parents like Savitha across the country are fearful and anxious of exposure to the pandemic and other illnesses and hence are delaying vaccinations for their children that they would typically pursue on time.
Why Timely Vaccination Is Necessary
Missing out on vaccinations can be hard on the infant as it greatly enhances the chances of getting infections for which we vaccinate the newborn. Young children, new borns and kids with lower immunity can be exposed to vaccine preventable diseases from almost anyone, ranging from parents, siblings and visitors, to people at the grocery store and play area. They are at risk to catch diseases from people who don’t have any symptoms. Children less than five years are especially susceptible as their immune systems have not built up the necessary defences to fight infection. Vaccine preventable diseases can range from mild to severe and life threatening. Some of them can cause large outbreaks as well. One of the most easily spread disease is measles, which contracts and spreads easily on those with a lower immunity. Vaccination During Pandemic can be critical but certainly not impossible.
Risks of Delaying Vaccines
Know why is it essential to timely vaccinate the baby and how it should be done to cause least discomfort to the baby:
- Vaccines are scheduled at a specific time, and not something that can be given any time. This is done to protect the new born from various diseases very early in life. It usually takes weeks for a vaccine to help your baby make protective disease fighting antibodies and some vaccines might require multiple doses to provide the best protection. If you wait until your child could be exposed to serious illness, there might not be enough time for the vaccine to work. The recommended immunisation schedule is safe and based on science. Age prevalence of disease decides appropriate age of vaccination as per the standard schedule. Vaccines are scheduled to provide immunity at right age to your child and also to protect the people around.
- Following the recommended schedule minimizes the number of visits to your child’s health care provider. Unimmunised children are at high risk of infectious diseases during the time the shots are delayed. More so for young children who need protection at an early age, as diseases like H. Influenza B, Pneumococcal pneumonia and whooping cough could be life threatening at less than 2 years of life. Polio can cause permanent paralysis, measles can lead to brain damage or death, and mumps can affect hearing and cause brain damage. Delayed vaccination in children can also put other family members at risk, especially the elderly and those with compromised immunity, chronic health conditions and infants who are too young to be vaccinated.
- In order to handle the current scenario of delayed vaccination effectively, we prioritise completing the primary series of vaccination. Also, we combine vaccinations mentioned at different ages as possible so that the number of hospital visits is reduced. The parents who are not comfortable visiting the hospital for vaccination can avail for home vaccination services that are available in their city through their hospital. Hospitals also send regular reminders to parents for the pending vaccines.
Frequently asked questions by Parents
Listed below are some frequently asked questions by new parents when it comes to vaccination:
- We are often asked questions by the parents – If they can delay the vaccination? For how long can we delay the vaccination? Are missed vaccines still required or is the baby outgrown for the same? Should we follow the schedule as per age or take the missed ones? Can we resume with the vaccination once back from our hometown? Do we need these vaccinations now, when everyone is at home? Is this vaccine optional or mandatory? Is it safe to visit the hospital and what precautions need to be taken during the visit?
- One should know that delayed vaccination means higher the vulnerability to diseases. Hence, when a vaccination schedule is given by the doctor to the family, one should understand that the baby is not in the position to fight certain illnesses at that point of age, hence requires vaccination for the same.
Precautions for Childhood Vaccination
On a concluding note, listed below are some simple precautions that one must take while vaccinating the baby in these pandemic times:
- I would recommend following regular precautions while visiting the hospital. Take an early appointment through digital platform to avoid staying longer at the hospital.
- Ensure not more than one attendant accompanies the baby.
- Toddlers can use a mask and/or face shield, practice safe social distancing, avoid touching surfaces and take good care of hand hygiene.
With inputs from Dr Deepti T. Nair, Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bangalore – Bellandur
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