A newborn baby’s ‘immature’ immune system, makes him or her vulnerable to many diseases. The vaccines are prepared from similar types of germs which produce these illnesses, to weaken or kill the germs. Thus, they help to combat ailments. Each dose, however, must be given as per the recommendations of the healthcare authorities of the country.

The common questions about vaccinating your baby

1. Is it advisable to feed the baby after the administration of oral vaccines?

You do not have delay breastfeeding your baby after he or she has received oral vaccines. Feed your baby based on his or her demand. This soothes them psychologically.

2. Is it mandatory to vaccinate my baby against all the diseases mentioned in the immunization schedule?

These diseases still exist, even if they are rare. Fortunately, through the various vaccination programs, all vaccine-preventable diseases have declined in India. However, when immunization rates drop, these diseases are likely to spread widely. This holds true especially due to the high rates of immigration.

3. Is it dangerous to receive multiple vaccines in a single shot?

No, studies show that a combination of vaccines is safe and effective. There is no reason for your baby to get the vaccines one at a time. Your child can be protected from different diseases with one injection (shot) through a combination of vaccines. Examples include MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) and the DPT vaccine (Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus). Getting more than one vaccine at once also means no delay in protection, fewer medical visits, and fewer needles pricks.

4. Is it advisable to continue with subsequent doses if your baby has not received one dose of a specific vaccine?

If a vaccine - such as the Diphtheria, Tetanus or Hepatitis B  - is given in a series of doses and your child has missed one or more of them, pick up where you’ve left off.

The vaccines that your baby has received still count. You must, however, consult the doctor with regards to the remaining doses.

5. Are the vaccines tested for efficacy and safety?

Yes, like all medicines, vaccines must go through several tests prior to receiving the approval for use from the Government and healthcare authorities. Vaccines must prove to be safe and effective at preventing the diseases they are targeted at. Once a vaccine is in use, health authorities continue to monitor for side effects and its safety. Vaccines rarely cause serious side effects.

6. Does MMR vaccine cause autism?

No, the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. It is a mere belief. Many say so as some signs of autism appear to be more obvious at the age when children receive the MMR vaccine.

7. Does breastfeeding protect my baby from infections as much as vaccines do?

Breastfeeding is not a substitute for vaccination. Breastfeeding provides some protection against certain infections, especially viral respiratory infections, ear infections, and diarrhea. But this protection is incomplete, temporary, and can be overcome if your baby is exposed to large amounts of specific germs. In contrast to this, vaccines provide your baby with long-lasting immunity against certain diseases even if she is exposed to a large number of germs.

8. Which type of immunity is better - the one provided by the natural course of the disease or that of vaccines?

The natural course of many diseases often results in life-threatening complications or disabilities. Moreover, vaccines are made from natural sources. Some vaccines are made from live germs that have undergone changes. Hence, they cannot cause any illness. Others contain only a part of the germ that has been pulled out and purified. Vaccines stimulate the immune system without making your baby sick.

9. Why are so many doses needed for each vaccine?

Getting the recommended doses of each vaccine provides your child with the best protection possible. Sometimes your baby would require more than the prescribed dose of the vaccine. In such cases, consult the physician.

10. What are the advantages of combination vaccines?

Combination vaccines protect your child against more than one disease with a single shot. They reduce the number of shots and visits to your child’s physician. Thus, saving you time and money. Most importantly, it reduces the number of painful shots on your child.

11. Is it advisable to vaccinate your child if she is sick?

Consult your child’s physician.

12. Can vaccines endanger my child’s immune system?

No, vaccines do not harm the immune system. Your child’s immune system successfully fights thousands of germs every day. Even if your child receives several vaccinations in a day, it constitutes only a tiny fraction of the germs that their body fights regularly.

13. What are the common side effects of vaccines?

Injection site reactions (pain, swelling, and redness), mild fever, shivering, fatigue, headache. muscle and joint pain are some of the common side effects of vaccines. These symptoms usually subside within a couple of days and you don't need to do anything about them. DO NOT apply heat to the injected area.

14. What should you do if your child is unwell after receiving a vaccination?

Some children catch a fever after receiving a vaccine. In such cases, keep your child cool. Cover your baby with a single layer of cloth and give her plenty of fluids (even breastmilk) to drink. You can also give them a dose of antipyretic /analgesic medicine after consulting your doctor.

Rarely, babies develop severe allergic reactions called anaphylactic reactions to vaccines. If your baby has generalized edema/swelling all over the body, breathing difficulty/altered level of consciousness, seek medical help immediately. Timely medical interventions can reverse the condition

Five useful tips for the parent

1. Avoid pre-dosing your baby with antipyretics and painkillers

It is important that you avoid giving such medicines to your little one before they receive a vaccination. It only masks the reaction from the injection. Don't give it after the injection either unless your doctor requests you to do so.

2. Prepare yourself to soothe her both physically and emotionally

The pain after vaccinations for a baby can be soothed as soon as you breastfeed her or when you cuddle her.

3. Always let someone else hold your baby during the vaccination

This is something that most parents miss but is very important. Your baby feels the safest with you, and if you hold her during the vaccination, she won't be able to see your face as the doctor/nurse injects her with the vaccine. Instead, let someone else hold your baby, while you stand right in front of her, and give her all the comfort and assurance she needs. This will make her feel less scared.

4. Be prepared for some side effects

It is common for many vaccines to show some milder side effects. But, there's nothing to worry about as they do not last for long. However, if you find any side-effect persisting for more than a week, feel free to consult your doctor.

5. Be alert about the vaccines’ subsequent doses and timing

Timely alerts on all vaccination doses and timings are very important. Do not fail to abide by prescribed immunization schedule without fail.

This article has been written by Dr. Namitha Subrahmanyam. She has been working as a nurse for over 13 years and holds an M.Sc in OBG Nursing. Recently, Namitha Subrahmanyam has been awarded a PhD. She is also working as an Associate Professor at the Department of Obstetrical and Gynaecological Nursing of the MOSC College of Nursing, Kochi, Kerala, India.