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Understanding Childhood Immunization Essay

Immunisation protects people against harmful disease. It uses the body’s natural defence to build resistance to specific infections (Australia Government Department of Health, 2013). It was Edward Jenner who developed the first vaccine in 1976 against small pox. Centuries later the next vaccine was developed by Louis Pasteur. This was the anti-rabies vaccine (Lombard, Pastoret, & Moulin, 2007). It was these two men who gave hope to other scientist for the development and prevention of other infectious diseases for years to come. There are many different types of vaccines available in Australia today. Currently, the ‘Immunise Australian Program’ offers vaccination against thirteen different diseases; haemophilus influenzae type b, hepatitis B, measles, meningococcal C, mumps, whooping cough, pneumococcal, polio, rotovirus, tetanus, chickenpox, diphtheria, rubella (AGDH, 2013).

These are not only potentially crippling and deadly diseases but they can also be prevented. The Australian Government Department of Health (AGDH) states that ‘Immunisations currently save 3 million lives each year world wide’ (AGDH, 2013). Immunisations are not only safe for the individual but they also protect the community. By increasing the level of immunity throughout all communities, the chance of spreading infection is substantially minimised. This is known as the ‘herd immunity’. Another important thing to mention is that the safety of Vaccines are tested by thousands of individuals in safe and monitored clinical trials. This can take up to ten years before they are then released into the Australian National Immunisations Program. They must meet strict guidelines and manufacturing records. These studies are ongoing and have proven to be safe and beneficial to the individual and the community (AGDH, 2013). Three main benefits of immunisations is that it can help to eliminate and eradicate diseases worldwide, it can create a herd immunity, and it can help to build resistance to vaccine preventable diseases.

Although some people argue that immunisations are not good for the individual and the community, many people believe that the advantages far out way the disadvantages. Firstly, many people believe that there is a link between immunisation and autism. This theory was established when scientist discovered that vaccinations, that contain a preservative called Thimerosal, have a mercuric compound called ethyl-mercury. Ethylmercury is nephrotoxic and neurotoxic at high levels. It has been suggested that vaccinations containing thimerosal could be related to neurodevelopment disorders or autism (Hviid, Stellfeld, Wohlfahrt, & Melbye, 2003). This information has been reviewed and still there is no evidence to support that there is a link with autism. Secondly, another concern for people is that vaccines contain harmful additives. Additives stabilize vaccines from changes in adverse conditions such as, freezing-drying and heat.

The additives that are used in most immunisations are protein additives that contain gelatin. The most identifiable concern is that hypersensitivity happens in some patients who have previous allergies to gelatin-containing foods. Therefore; not all patients will experience an allergic reaction to these vaccines, and those that it may, already have a existing allergy (Offit, & Jew, 2003). Lastly, it has been argued that there is a link between immunisation and cancer. There are already two vaccines, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus that act directly to prevent cancer. These vaccines are not live and could not biologically cause cancer. There is however, skepticism with a simian virus found in some species of monkey. This virus was found in the kidney cell lines of the monkey and used to produce the polio vaccine between 1955 and 1963. No current polio vaccines used in Australia contain this virus and no studies show that there was in increased cancer risk in people who had the earlier vaccine. (AGDH, 2003). Although there are arguments contending immunisation, there are more convincing arguments supporting its benefits.

One of the main benefits supporting immunisation is that it can help to eliminate and eradicate diseases. It is through child immunisation that several of the diseases, that have once killed or injured many infants and children, have been greatly reduced or even eliminated. One example of this is Smallpox which was declared to be the first disease eradicated in 1980. This viral infection left a skin rash and scars over many people and also killed millions during a widespread epidemic (Hildreth, Burke, & Glass, 2009). Furthermore, there are still viruses and diseases causing sickness and even death that can be vaccine-prevented. Polio causes acute paralysis, physical disabilities, and even death in more children than adults. Many that do survive this disease are left in braces, crutches and even wheelchairs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007).

Since the ongoing attempts of Polio eradication, successful efforts have resulted in a decreased number of cases from 350,000 in 1988 to 1294 in 2010. (The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 2011). Another of these deadly diseases reduced by vaccination is measles. Measles is a highly contagious disease that develops with a high fever and rash, has life threatening complications, including blindness, severe diarrhoea, and pneumonia. Before the measles vaccination became available there were 130 million measles cases and 16 million cases of measles related deaths. Today with immunisation available, the number of measles cases are decreasing rapidly and measles eradication efforts are being made. (Gounder, 1998).

Another benefit that supports immunisations is that it can create a “herd immunity”. Although the term is widely used, it is best described as a form of immunity that occurs when a vaccine provides a level of protection for those who have not developed an immunity. When a high percentage of the community is protected through immunisation, against a disease, it is difficult for it to spread because so few people are left to contract the virus or disease (Anonymous, 2011). One example of this was first recognised with  smallpox.

The goal was to achieve 80% immunity with the population. Although it was eradication that finally ended smallpox, the herd effect contributed to reducing a large number of cases (Kim, Johnstone, & Loeb, 2011). “Herd immunity”, can also be beneficial for protecting those that can not be immunised. It can be especially important in protecting children who are too young to be vaccinated There are also individuals with particular illnesses, such as cancer that makes it unable for them to be immunised. Again this is crucial for protecting these individuals and the community (Anonymous, 2011).

Lastly, immunisations can help with the economic value to families and the community. Researchers have shown that vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumbs, rubella, hepaititis B and varicella have resulted in a savings of more than five dollars in direct costs and eleven dollars in additional costs per every dollar that is spent on immunisations (AGDH, 2013). This is compared to treating a deadly disease which is estimated to up to $87,940 per healthy life saved. Another reason immunisation can add value is if a child carries a preventable disease, they can be denied from attending school or child care facilities. This can put pressure on families who may lose time at work or have the expense of covering medical and long term disability costs. However, research has shown giving children immunisations there may be a 5 year improvement in the life expectancy of the individual and could add an annual growth of about .5% income to the family. This not only maximises the full life potential of the child but also the economic value to the families and the community (Ehreth, 2003)

In light of the evidence above, the benefit of child immunisation far out ways the disadvantages. It is vitally important to immunise children. Vaccinations today are used all over the world, and with the medical standards looked upon, the risks are very small. It is important for parents to understand the full risks associated with immunisations and to also fully understand the overwhelming medical evidence that shows the benefits of immunisation. Vaccination is vitally important because of its impact on the quality of life for every child. After all, there is no area for speculation when it comes to a child’s health.

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