To vaccinate or not to vaccinate…that is the question

Before I go any further I must declare my various interests in this topic matter – I am a mother, I am a doctor, I have had all my immunisations.

To date, Amelia has had all of the immunisations offered to her as part of the UK routine immunisation schedule, and she has recently had her Meningitis B vaccination. This latest vaccine was not part of her routine immunisations and we had to seek this out privately. It’s fair to say that Amelia had no choice in whether or not she had all of these immunisations. But then she currently has little choice in what she eats or wears, where she goes and what activities she participates in, etc. So should I allow her to choose whether she be immunised or not? In my mind the answer to this is a definitive no. If I look at it from a medical perspective, she clearly doesn’t have the competence or capacity to make such decisions. She doesn’t understand what it means to have, or not have these immunisations, she wouldn’t retain and understand the information if I gave it to her, and she certainly couldn’t repeat it all back to me. Hence, it is left to Daddy and myself to make such decisions on her behalf. Our approach is that we will do whatever keeps her most safe and well in life.

It is a stressful time taking your little baby for those first injections. She doesn’t understand why we are in a strange place, with strange people, and why she is being held so tightly (this is mainly for my own comfort!). She doesn’t understand why she’s being made to swallow something that isn’t her usual milk, and why suddenly she has one needle in either thigh, simultaneously! When she let out that cry of discomfort and worry I had a wave of sadness. But as quickly as the cry started, with a tight hug and some reassuring words, it was over. Though I’m not sure that she understood me, we had sat in the waiting room before the injections with me explaining that they were for the best, and to help keep her well. I reiterated this point after she’d had them, and that she was a very good girl, and I loved her very much.

I’m not going to spend time chastising parents who choose not to immunise their children. They have their reasons. But I can only hope those reasons take into account current evidence and fact, and are not influenced by rumours or inaccurate evidence. Through childhood immunisations we had got to a stage where we had almost eliminated many of those infections we immunise against.  The fact is that there are an increasing number of cases of such illnesses, which have arisen through an increased number of babies and children who have not been immunised. There is a reason that vaccines were developed, and not only for drug companies to make mega bucks! The principle reason is that these illnesses can make your little ones sick, and can cause potentially serious complications.  I have Amelia immunised, but to really help we need the majority of children to also be immunised.

When I heard about the Meningitis B vaccine becoming available it was great news. Meningitis B is the most common cause of bacterial meningitis and meningococcal septicaemia. In turn, meningococcal septicaemia is the commonest cause of death, from infection, in the under 5’s. Moreover, babies under 1 year of age are at most risk (see the Meningitis Research Organisation,http://www.meningitis.org/menb-vaccine, for more information). The vaccination is being introduced into the routine immunisation at 2 months, 4 months and 12-13 months of age. My first thought was ‘Hang on a minute, what about Amelia? Is there a catch-up programme?’ There is, but only for babies born on or after 1st May 2015. Therefore, Amelia is not eligible for the vaccine through the NHS.

We looked into her having it done privately. It cost around £100-150 per injection. This is a lot of money. Luckily for us we are fortunate enough to afford this, and our next decision was about whether she really needed it, rather than where do we get the money to do it. We talked to friends – some who’d already had their child immunised, some who’d not even thought about it, some who were doctors and some who were not. I talked to a couple of friends who are paediatricians, who confirmed that of the cases of meningitis they had seen, many had been related to meningitis B. It was when someone said “You have to ask yourself how you would feel if she did get meningitis and you hadn’t done all you could to protect her”. This comment made our decision easy – we would feel guilty, and that we had let her down, if we didn’t do all we could to protect her.

I feel frustrated that she couldn’t have this injection on the NHS. It annoys me that she falls outside the catch-up programme, yet she is within the age group at most risk. I do wish that they had set the catch-up programme to all under 1’s. I can, however, see why perhaps this is easier said than done. Perhaps, with some pressure, they may adjust the catch-up programme and more babies will be included. But as I write this I look at the positive point – we now have a way to protect our little ones from another potentially deadly disease, and even if your little one wont get it as part of their routine immunisations, just having other babies immunised may help to reduce the chances of your little one contracting the disease.

Again, just to reiterate – these are the decisions we have made for our little girl. Everyone makes their own decisions, based on their own views and research but if you choose not to get your baby vaccinated please think of the consequences to the rest of the herd!

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The picture is taken on the day of her first set of immunisations – that’s how little she was!