A human body’s natural defence against infection is called immunity. When somebody acquires an infection, his body produces chemicals, called antibodies, to fight the infection. After an infection, a person usually becomes immune to that virus or bacterium, and the immunity may last for life.
Apparently, we can cause the same level of immunity without getting the full-blown disease or infection. That process is called immunisations or vaccinations. Immunisations are usually given by injection. Some work by introducing an inactive form of the disease into our bodies. Others contain certain proteins or toxins taken from the bacteria that cause the disease. Our bodies create antibodies in response to the immunisation, protecting us from the disease.
Which immunisations are available for you baby?
The standard childhood immunisations protect your baby against the most common infectious diseases. They are offered routinely to every baby as part of the preschool immunisation programme. These vaccines protect against:
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Hepatitis B
- Meningitis B
- Meningitis C
- Whooping cough (pertussis)
Your baby may be given extra, or earlier, immunisations if he is considered at high risk for certain diseases or illnesses. Other vaccines are accessible to babies considered at high risk of catching certain diseases. This includes the BCG to protect against tuberculosis, which can be given at birth, the flu vaccine, and extra doses of hepatitis B vaccine.
If your baby is at high risk for flu, he may be given the flu vaccine as early as six months.
Although hepatitis B is part of the routine immunisation schedule, babies at particular risk of catching it need extra protection. Additional hepatitis B vaccinations can be given immediately after the birth, at four weeks old, and again at 12 months old.
On the day, a doctor or nurse will explain which immunisations your baby is receiving, and answer any questions you may have.
Your baby will receive his immunisations by injection, usually in his thigh or upper arm, or by drops in his mouth. The flu vaccine is usually given via a nasal spray. Immunisations only take a few seconds, and you can comfort your baby with plenty of cuddles as soon as he’s had them.
Are immunisations safe for your baby?
All vaccines are thoroughly tested before being licensed for use. They are continually monitored to make sure they are safe and effective in protecting your child against the diseases that could harm him.
It’s natural to dislike the idea of your baby having injections, or to worry about the safety of vaccines. But the benefit of immunisations far outweigh the risks of any side effects.
However, you’ll want to be sure in your own mind about what’s best for your child. The important thing is to make sure you get the answers to any questions you may have.
Talk to your doctor or practice nurse and read as much as you can before you make a decision. See our article about common immunisation worries. Here you’ll find answers to questions you may have when deciding whether or not to go ahead.
How effective are immunisations?
In the UK, vaccinations have been used since the 1850s, and their impact is clear to see. For example, the introduction of the vaccine against diphtheria in the 1940s saw a dramatic fall in the number of deaths from the disease. In 1940, there were over 60,000 known cases and more than 3,000 deaths. By 1957, the death rate had dropped to just six.
These days diphtheria is a rare disease. However, even though many dangerous illnesses are now rare, they can spread again if not enough children are immunised.
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