Parents always want the best for their kids. And when it comes to kids’ health, parents are selective and meticulous. There are various opinions and ideas regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, especially for children. In addition, the proliferation of fake news and unverified information from social media contribute to lack of confidence with the government’s vaccination programs.
Vaccines protect children from life-threatening diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, rotavirus, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia and human papilloma virus (HPV)1. Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective public health strategies adapted by modern medicine. During a public health crisis like COVID-19, immunization becomes more important because it can cover a wider scope of population2.
While COVID-19 vaccine recommendations for children are still underway, routine vaccinations are available to provide the needed protection for kids for other vaccine-preventable diseases that continue to be prevalent. Vaccines will only be effective if administered. When parents consent to get their children vaccinated, they help protect the life of their children. Open communication with parents to address their concerns is a big step to achieve a successful vaccination rollout.
Years of practice gave Dr. Jaime Santos, former president and life fellow of Pediatric Infectious Disease Society of the Philippines, valuable insights to help parents understand the role of vaccines in the health, safety and well-being of their kids.
Areas of concern
Parents often take into consideration three things when it comes to vaccines – purpose, safety and cost. Parents need to understand what type of vaccine is given to their child and what type of disease it can prevent. Access to the right information is critical.
“Pediatricians and those who care for children are already aware of the value of vaccination. The health care provider must be well-informed and knowledgeable on vaccination, and must know how to give the vaccines properly,” noted Dr. Santos. “It may take several sessions for some parents to be convinced. Citing important data from good studies can also help. Most importantly, public information campaigns with the help of media can go a long way to clear misconceptions on vaccination.”
Safety is a paramount consideration. “In the last few years, vaccine hesitancy has cropped up especially in the public program. The controversy on dengue vaccine has impacted the vaccination program,” recalled Dr. Santos. “Fear and distrust together with misinformation breed hesitancy and rejection.”
Vaccine confidence in the Philippines significantly dropped in the last few years, and it affected the coverage of established routine vaccines for polio, measles, rubella, diphtheria, hepatitis, rotavirus and pneumonia.3
Amidst the pandemic, the lack of public transportation made it more difficult for parents to travel from their homes to healthcare facilities where routine vaccinations are being offered. Also, parents fear that bringing their children out and mingling with other patients in clinics and hospitals might expose them to infection.
“Covid-19 has impacted vaccine delivery in many ways for clear reasons as well, principally causing delays or deferrals of access to health care facilities,” added Dr. Santos.
The cost of immunization is another factor that affects parents’ decision to consent for the shot. How much will the vaccine cost? For private clinics, the routine vaccinations vary in prices. However, vaccines under the government’s National Immunization Program are free of charge. Likewise, vaccines administered under the school-based immunization initiative are free for students enrolled in public schools.
How vaccines work?
According to Dr. Santos, our body’s natural immune system is equipped to fight off viruses and infections. When an infection enters the body, we get sick, but the immune system remembers these organisms and reacts better and faster the next time a similar infection occurs. However, this process poses some risk. When we get sick from infection, there is a possibility of hospitalization and the risk of complications that may lead to death. For parents, a sick child is difficult and worrisome.
“This is where vaccines come in. Vaccines are produced to mimic a natural exposure to the bugs. When vaccinated, we develop immunity as well, but this time, we develop immunity without getting the disease,” explained Dr. Santos. “Vaccines have been responsible for reducing disease burden or eliminating disease such as smallpox, and hopefully soon, polio. Increasing vaccine coverage is important as well, as reduces the chances that those unvaccinated will catch the disease, by providing herd protection. Low vaccine coverage can lead to outbreaks like measles.”
Before vaccines are licensed for use, they undergo clinical trials where efficacy and safety are assessed, and these are thoroughly evaluated by licensing bodies in each country where they will be used. There are several phases in the study of vaccines from initial small studies to large subject population studies and these take years to complete. Even after a vaccine is marketed, adverse events are monitored and reported, and safety signals are assessed.
“Safety is indeed important, as nobody would want to give or receive a vaccine if it does more harm than good. For any vaccine, there is always the rule that the benefits must outweigh the risks. The smaller the risks the better,” emphasized Dr. Santos. “Very rare unexpected events can happen, which must be reported and assessed as either vaccine-related or not by competent experts, but these are very uncommon and isolated. Remember though, that the damage or effects of natural diseases on our body are more devastating, than uncommon and minor effects we experience from vaccination.”
Guide for parents before and after vaccination
Parents are in the best position to ensure that kids are safe before and after vaccination. There are steps they can take to prepare for vaccination and care for kids after getting the shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here are things that parents can do ensure children’s safety before and after vaccination4.
Before the shot, here are tips to help parents prepare.
Read about the vaccines that your child is getting. Get reliable information from your doctor and healthcare professionals.
Make sure you have your child’s immunization record. This will help the doctor determine which shots have been given and what is the next vaccine need by your child.
Support your child during the vaccination. Make them feel comfortable by bringing their favorite toy or book.
Never threaten your child with a vaccine. Remind them that vaccines will help protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases.
After the shot, these helpful tips are guide for parents to manage expectations after the vaccination.
Use a cool, damp cloth to help reduce redness, soreness and/or swelling at in the place where the shot was given.
Reduce fever with a cool sponge bath.
Offer liquids more often. It is normal for some children to eat less during the 24 hours after getting vaccines.
Ask your child’s doctor if you can give your child a non-aspirin pain reliever.
Pay extra attention to your child for a few days. If you see something that concerns you, call your child’s doctor.
“It is important that parents bring up the discussion of vaccines early, when the child can already understand and give assent, and before bringing the child to the clinic. Instinctively parents know this, as I see them in the clinic explain the value of vaccination in preventing disease when the child is hesitant,” highlighted Dr. Santos. “It also important that the doctor explain it to the child as well, and to answer any question the child may ask truthfully”.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, MSD in the Philippines once again emphasizes this year that parents can take charge of their children’s wellbeing by Calling The Shots on their Babies’ Health. Call your pediatrician today and ask about how to protect your kids from vaccine preventable diseases. For more information, you may also visit https://www.facebook.com/CallTheShotsPH/