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Illness prevention and treatment

August 09, 2013

Making sense of kids’ vaccinations

Keeping track of kids’ immunization schedules can be tricky, but staying on top of shots can ensure your children receive the protection they need.

Dr. Marvin Gans’ busy practice includes a lot of parents with differing views on vaccinations. Partly due to changing schedules and controversial data linking vaccines to conditions such as autism, some parents are asking to break out combination vaccines into individual doses, delay their kids’ shots or just asking many questions about safety.

Gans is patient. “I try to explain to them: The greatest advances in medical care are immunizations,” says the Toronto paediatrician. “We used to see way more reactions. But now hardly anyone says ‘my kid was sick’ after a vaccination,” he adds.

Instead, the vast majority of his patients are vaccinated with no issues whatever. And he has yet to see a patient suffer a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine.

The biggest issues Gans sees now are staying on top of ever-changing vaccination schedules and knowing about new vaccines on the market.

While vaccination schedules vary by province in terms of timelines and funding, the Public Health Agency of Canada lists immunization schedules recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. The website lets you pull up an immunization schedule tool for children under six, by age and province. And, because immunization requirements for entering school also vary among provinces, the site includes an immunization schedule tool for school-age children.

New vaccines for kids

While DTaP — diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (whooping cough) — and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) are vaccine mainstays on provincial immunizations schedules, new vaccines and formulations are emerging.

In some cases, existing vaccines are being bundled together with newer vaccines to reduce the number of shots kids receive, says Gans. These vaccines include DTaP-IPV-Hibor five-in-one, which is DtaP plus polio and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b, a common cause of bacterial meningitis). Other newer vaccines include:

  • The varicella vaccine, which is used to prevent chicken pox. Last year, it was recommended that kids receive two shots of the vaccine, the first of which is usually covered under provincial health plans. (The second shot is not always covered.)

  • HPV vaccine. This protects against the four strains of human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted infection that can show up as genital warts and lead to cancers of the cervix, anus, vagina and vulva. In Canada, HPV vaccine is approved for females and males aged nine to 26 years and is usually administered to girls in grade eight. The vaccine may be offered to boys in the near future.

  • Pneumococcal vaccine. This vaccine protects against pneumococcal infections caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, which can cause meningitis, bloodstream infections, pneumonia and ear infections.

  • Rotavirus. A vaccine that protects against diarrhea in babies and young children, The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends that all infants between six weeks and 32 weeks (eight months) of age receive it.

  • Meningococcal vaccine. Two versions of this vaccine exist in Canada: The meningococcal C vaccine (MCV-C) protects babies and young children from meningitis, a serious infection of the brain and spinal cord, while MCV — 4 is given to kids aged two years and older, and is not covered by all provincial health plans.

The key to success is staying on top of your child’s vaccinations, says Gans. While paediatricians keep records of their young patients’ shots, “parents should also take some responsibility for keeping track,” he says.

What parents can do

Besides getting good information from reliable sources such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, there are several things you can do to help ensure your children are vaccinated properly:

  • Bring your child’s vaccination record each time he or she receives a shot. Doctors may move — and take your child’s vaccination record with them. Or you may move to another province with a different vaccination schedule.

  • Ask to see the bottle. Checking the vaccine vial will put your mind at ease that your child is receiving the right shot.

  • Report any mild adverse effects right away to your doctor. If your child has a serious reaction such as a high fever after a vaccination, head straight to the ER.

  • Skip the acetaminophen. Doctors no longer recommend giving fever reducers as a preventive measure before or after any vaccination to boost immunity — unless a child develops a high fever.

  • Talk to your doctor. If your child has a fever, reduced immunity, a chronic illness or a long-term medical condition, ask about whether vaccination is safe.

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