Vaccination: why and how
Many diseases have been eradicated, some due to better hygiene and understanding, others due to prevention with immunisation. Every since Edward Jenner formulated the smallpox vaccine in 1796, the science has moved forward by leaps and bounds. Immunisation has covered many diseases and protected more and more people.
Many diseases such as smallpox, measles, mumps, German measles, diphtheria, polio and whooping cough have practically been eradicated. Others like chicken pox, typhoid, hepatitis A, rotavirus, some of the pneumonias, brain fever and ear infections should technically also be eradicated. Unfortunately, while immunisation is available for these diseases, it is not universally accepted. In India, and many developed countries, some parents are not vaccinating their children out of ignorance or because they do not think it necessary. They think if those immunisations were that important, the government would arrange to give the injections for free.
While the government provides basic immunisation against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B, polio, measles and rubella, the limited national health budget does not allow it to cover the extra vaccines.
There is a great deal of inaccurate medical information on social media. Educated professionals are not getting their their children immunised because they believe vaccines can cause side effects such as autism. Studies have shown that vaccination does not increase the risk of autism.
These days people have only one or two children instead of half a dozen like earlier days. It is imperative that the children should be as healthy as possible. Although many children are able to withstand childhood infectious diseases, in others it can cause severe, long-standing side effects. Many diseases can cause blindness, deafness, encephalopathy (brain infections), sterility or even death. Some side effects like sterility show up only much later, so the link with the original childhood infection due to lack of immunisation may not be remembered.
Another problem is the misuse or over use of antibiotics, often purchased over the counter. These are taken to treat everything from coughs, colds and fever to diarrhoea. Sometimes the diseases are causes by viruses and the antibiotics are unnecessary. Also, people are often ignorant of the correct dose of antibiotics.
Sometimes people eat highly processed foods all the time. This is especially true of young adults who live away from family. They usually eat at the office or college canteen or order in from restaurants. Children too are likely to binge on highly-processed snacks. Both groups gradually become vitamin deficient. Lack of Vitamin C (found in fresh citrus fruits) causes swelling and bleeding of the gums while Vitamin B deficiency causes skin problems and anaemia.
We should not believe all the medical forwards on social media. Immunising our children, not self-medicating and eating 4-6 helpings of fruits and vegetables a day is essential for health.
The writer is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore and author of Staying Healthy in Modern India.
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