Myths and legends are not limited to the world of fairy tales; there are plenty surrounding the immunisations of adults and children – but especially of children.
How they grew up is sometimes anyone’s guess; but sometimes they relate to immunisations no longer deemed necessary (like smallpox); or to symptoms of illnesses that were once serious, but now easily treatable. Whatever the source, they tend to be handed down the generations and can be a cause of much confusion.
Here are some immunisation myths you may have heard of – and some that you haven’t:
One such myth is, “Thou shalt not have this immunisation if a family member once had any adverse reaction following immunisation.” What sort of reaction? Was it co-incidental? What was the immunisation? This is not a reason to avoid an immunisation in itself – your family member was not you.
Another is “I’ve had it (the illness) before.”
A previous, natural, illness of pertussis (whooping cough) or measles or mumps or rubella is likewise not a reason to avoid these particular immunisations. Put simply – the diagnosis could have been wrong. If someone really has had one of these illnesses naturally and subsequently gets the immunisation for it – the worst that is likely to happen is that the immunisation will have no effect. It may even improve their immunity to it. However, if the diagnosis was wrong – and immunisation declined because of it – a potentially serious illness may later occur. In the case of rubella in particular, this could lead to a pregnant woman catching the disease and her child born with congenital rubella; or, in the case of a male, catching the disease and giving it to his pregnant wife.
Some myths seem to preach that only the totally healthy should be protected against infectious disease… Stable neurological conditions (affecting the brain, mental processing, nervous system) are likewise no reason to avoid immunisation – and here the emphasis is on the word “stable”. If someone’s condition is fluctuating or changing due to an illness or condition, then it is best to wait until your doctor feels that it is OK to immunise them. (If in doubt – ask!).
However, children with conditions such as cerebral palsy, or children with Down’s syndrome, have as much right to the full range of immunisations as anyone else. Also, if they were to catch these illnesses naturally, they are very likely to have relatively more health problems as a result than another child – so immunisation should be a priority for them. Likewise: asthma, chronic lung diseases, and congenital heart diseases. The same point applies – if children with these conditions were to catch these illnesses naturally, they would be very likely to have relatively more health problems as a result than another child – so immunisation should also be a priority in these cases.
In the case of minor illnesses, such as snuffles or earache – bring the child and ask your doctor. Most minor illnesses, provided that there is no fever and that the child is reasonably well, are usually not reasons to postpone immunisations – although if the child is actually ill or feverish, then the immunisation is likely to be delayed until recovery.
Other myths relate to on-going treatment…
If a child is having antibiotics at the time an immunisation is due, that – in and of itself- is not a reason to postpone immunisation. What matters is: why are the antibiotics being taken? If he or she is acutely ill, that is one thing – and your doctor may advise that they wait till recovery.
If he or she has, for example, a skin infection being treated with antibiotics and is otherwise well (or on long-term antibiotics for an on-going health problem)- then it is more likely that the immunisation will be given. Similarly, locally acting steroids (eg. some asthma inhalers and some eczema creams) are generally not regarded as reasons to delay immunisation. If in doubt, bring your child and ask your doctor when you arrive – before the immunisation.
Some myths relate to immunisations no longer given…
For example smallpox. Smallpox vaccination and chronic eczema could be a bad mix – but smallpox vaccine is no longer given; and children with eczema need as much protection from infectious diseases as anyone else.
Myths relating to age, size and feeding…
Small babies (below any certain size) and those born prematurely should also be immunised as a priority – and at the same age from actual birth as those born when expected. Research has shown that the immunity which develops is the same in babies born prematurely as it is in babies born at full-term, when immunised at the ages currently recommended in the UK.
The method of infant feeding being used is not relevant. Yes, babies who are breast-fed can be fully immunised; as can those whose mothers are again pregnant.
And if they are “over” the currently recommended age – bring them along. They can receive whichever immunisations they need, even if they are older. If in doubt, bring your child and ask your doctor and we won’t even charge!
By Dr Maureen Norrie