The UK childhood immunisation schedule is well established and begins at eight weeks post birth, extending to 14 years of age, with boosters thereafter. Ideally all children should be immunised, for their own protection, as well as that of the wider population. The principle of herd immunity, whereby large numbers of individuals engage with the programme, means those not vaccinated are less likely to come into contact with disease vectors.
The full schedule of vaccines can be accessed on both the NHS website and that of the UK government, with one of most recent introductions being the HPV vaccine, aimed at girls before age of first sexual activity. Indeed some clinicians are now offering this to boys as well, although it is currently only licensed for females. In addition to the traditional core group, there are now optional vaccines, aimed at high risk children, and include those against chicken pox, tuberculosis, flu and hepatitis B.
Parents may present objections to vaccination, and these need to be taken seriously, but also addressed appropriately, with any myths dispelled. It is easy to raise objection to a vaccine which has very mild and transient side effects, because most people will not have memory or experience of how devastating the disease itself is.
Firstly, it has been proven beyond doubt that there is no link between MMR and the development of autism. Certain vaccines do have hens’ egg products as a base, including flu and MMR. However, for children who are egg allergic, there are egg-free alternatives. It is important to establish the difference between true allergies to eggs as opposed to the child not liking them. Some vaccines now contain pork gelatin, as a stabilising agent, to promote a longer shelf life. Certain members of the Muslim and Jewish faiths may raise objections to this; however religious leaders from both faiths have stated that accepting the vaccine does not constitute a compromise of religious beliefs, with the benefits of vaccination outweighing any concerns.
The story of small pox, whereby mass vaccination essentially eradicated the disease to a level such that immunisation is no longer needed, is perhaps one of the greatest successes of modern medicine.