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Immunisations in Children with Special Needs

beautiful-blond-kid-blow-dandelionImmunisations are the mainstay of protecting children and adults from preventable, and sometimes life-threatening infectious illnesses. They have been around in some shape or form for many decades now, and are constantly evolving to meet the challenges of new infectious organisms, and different strains of older ones. In developed countries like Australia, immunisations are readily available to all families through General Practitioners or Early Childhood Centre Immunisation Clinics.

Immunisations work by triggering the body’s natural immune response to foreign invaders ie infectious organisms. Following immunisation, the body develops antibodies to that particular organism, so that when the body comes into contact with that organism again, it will be rapidly removed and illness avoided.

We don’t think that immunisation is always 100% successful ie some children and adults do not mount an appropriate immune response to the vaccination. Depending on the particular vaccination, success rates can be from 85% upwards, but most are 90-95% effective. The more people who are immunised, though, the less likely infections can be passed form one person to another, hence increasing the overall protection of the whole community, not just individuals. This is known as “herd immunity”.

Some immunisations are one-off but most in children require repeated injections to maximize effectiveness. Many vaccinations are now combined to minimise the number of injections children receive. In Australia, immunisations protect against such infections as Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis (whooping cough), Haemophilus, Pneumococcus, Meningococcus, Rotavirus, Varicella (chickenpox), Measles, Mumps and Rubella. Older girls can be vaccinated against Human Papilloma Virus, thought to be a major cause of cervical cancer.

Parents often wonder about the safety of vaccines, which is understandable. Unfortunately, misleading and alarmist material has been published in the past, and continues to be written, claiming vaccinations are unsafe and can actually cause long term illness. There is NO credible evidence for such claims, and both governmental and medical bodies continue to advocate for full immunisation of children according to local schedules.

Children with special needs, probably even moreso than other children, should be fully immunized according to local recommendations. This group obviously encompasses a wide spectrum of children who can present with anything from minor developmental delays through to multiple, complex medical problems that require intensive support. Many children with special needs, particularly those at the more severe end of the spectrum, often have reduced reserve when it comes to fighting infections, whether that be due to underlying lung or heart conditions, a tendency to have seizures, suppressed immunity, or a myriad of other possible scenarios. These children in particular should be protected from very preventable infections to avoid a deterioration in what can already be a fairly fragile condition. Parents of children with special needs should feel confident that vaccinations will not worsen their child’s condition in any way, and should diligently follow the recommendations of their doctor. In some cases, additional vaccinations are recommended eg seasonal influenza, above and beyond the standard immunisation schedule.

 

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