The vast majority of kids have all their vaccines on time, every time. They follow the vaccine schedule developed by experts in their country and recommenced by their doctor.
But what about those who do not?
If parents choose to delay some vaccines or even to refuse some vaccines entirely, there can be risks.
The World Health Organisations’ regional office for Europe has put together a short explanation of the risks associated with opting out of vaccination. It includes advice on how to minimise the risk for unvaccinated children and others – such as those who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated.
Tell health professionals
The document makes clear that by deciding to delay or refuse vaccines, parents are taking on “an important responsibility that could put their children’s health and even life at risk”.
Any time an unvaccinated child is sick, in an ambulance, visits a hospital or clinic, parents must tell medical staff that the child has not received all the vaccines recommended for their age.
This is essential as health staff may under-estimate the risk of certain decisions if they presume that the child is up to date with their immunisations. It also allows hospitals to take precautions to protect others from infectious diseases.
Better late than never?
If an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable diseases occurs, it may not be too late to have the child vaccinated. The child’s doctor will be able to advise. However, some vaccines take time to become effective so it is, of course, best to have the vaccines on time so that the child is protected in the event of an outbreak.
WHO Europe is not the only organisation to take this approach. Experts in Australia have also developed material to help parents make decisions about vaccines.
Try this MMR decision aid that walks you through the consequences of vaccinating and not vaccinating against measles, mumps and rubella.
In the above video, Julie Leask of the University of Sydney, explains how this kind of simple non-judgemental tool can help parents make informed decisions – whatever that decision might be.
Dr Leask has also developed material to help health professionals engage with parents who are, to varying degrees, hesitant about vaccination.
If you have hesitations about the immunisation programme, ask your doctor. And if you decide to decline vaccines on behalf of your child, be sure you are aware of the implications.