Understanding the need for vaccines

All Woman

VACCINATIONS are given in childhood to prevent diseases that have historically proven harmful, caused serious complications, and even resulted in death. These include polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus and hepatitis B.

The vaccines are commonly administered by drops in the mouth, or through injections. In Jamaica, children are immunised to protect against Polio, Haemophilus influenzae Type B, Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps, Rubella (German measles), Tuberculosis (TB), Diphtheria, Pertussis (Whooping cough), Tetanus (Lockjaw). Parents also have the option of immunising against varicella (chickenpox), pneumococcal disease and gastroenteritis, which are not on the list of routine government vaccinations.


•Three doses of hepatitis B vaccine

•Four doses of pneumococcal vaccine

•One dose of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR)

•One dose of varicella vaccine

•Four doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine (DTP)

•Four doses of Hib vaccine

•Four doses of polio vaccine

•At least two doses of the rotavirus vaccine (gastroenteritis). Older children will need boosters for MMR and DPT/polio from ages four to six. Many parents will just take their children in for their shots without giving a second thought about what their children are getting protection from. But have you ever wondered exactly what your vaccines protect against? Here are some brief details of the diseases, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US.

Tuberculosis (TB)

Tuberculosis (TB) is a disease caused by bacteria that are spread through the air from person to person. If not treated properly, TB can be fatal. The bacterium responsible for TB, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, usually attack the lungs, but TB bacteria can attack any part of the body such as the kidney, spine, and brain. The TB bacteria are transmitted through the air when a person with TB of the lungs or throat coughs, speaks, or sings. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and become infected. The BCG vaccine to protect against TB is given to children at birth.


Diphtheria is an infection caused by the bacterium Corynebacterium diphtheriae. Diphtheria causes a thick covering in the back of the throat. It can lead to difficulty breathing, heart failure, paralysis, and even death. Diphtheria spreads (transmits) from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets, via coughing or sneezing. A person also can get diphtheria by coming in contact with an object, like a toy, that has the bacteria which cause diphtheria on it.

Pertussis (Whooping cough)

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Pertussis is known for uncontrollable, violent coughing which often makes it hard to breathe. After coughing fits, someone with pertussis often needs to take deep breaths which result in a “whooping” sound. Pertussis can affect people of all ages, but can be very serious, even deadly, for babies less than a year old. People with pertussis usually spread the disease to another person by coughing or sneezing or when spending a lot of time near people with whom breathing space is shared. Many babies who get pertussis are infected by older siblings, parents, or caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.

Tetanus (Lockjaw)

Tetanus is an infection caused by bacteria called Clostridium tetani. When the bacteria invade the body they produce a poison (toxin) that causes painful muscle contractions. Another name for tetanus is “lockjaw”. It often causes a person's neck and jaw muscles to lock, making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. Spores of tetanus bacteria are everywhere in the environment, including in soil, dust and manure. The spores develop into bacteria when they enter the body.


Polio is a crippling and potentially fatal infectious disease. There is no cure, but there are safe and effective vaccines. Polio is spread from person to person, invading the brain and spinal cord and causing paralysis.

Haemophilus influenzae type b

(Hib) Haemophilus influenzae disease refers to any illness caused by H influenzae bacteria. Some of these illnesses, like ear infections, are mild while others, like bloodstream infections, are very serious. In spite of the name, H influenzae do not cause influenza (the flu). While H influenzae can infect people of all ages, these bacteria usually cause illness in babies and young children. People spread H influenzae, including Hib, to others through respiratory droplets. This happens when someone who has the bacteria in their nose or throat coughs or sneezes. People who are not sick but have the bacteria in their noses and throats can still spread the bacteria.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is transmitted when blood, semen, or another body fluid from a person infected with the hepatitis B virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. This can happen through sexual contact; sharing needles, syringes, or other drug-injection equipment; or from mother to baby at birth. For some people, hepatitis B is an acute or short-term illness, but for others it can become a long-term, chronic infection. Chronic hepatitis B can lead to serious health issues like cirrhosis or liver cancer. The best way to prevent hepatitis B is by getting vaccinated. Infants should get their first dose of the hepatitis B vaccine at birth and will usually complete the series at six months of age.


Measles is a very contagious disease caused by a virus. It spreads through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In fact, the measles virus can stay in the air for up to two hours after an infected person was there. So you can get infected by simply being in a room where an infected person once was. It is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90 per cent of the people around him or her will also become infected if they are not protected.


Mumps is a contagious disease that is also caused by a virus. It typically starts with a few days of fever, headache, muscle aches, tiredness, and loss of appetite. Most people will then have swelling of their salivary glands, which is what causes the puffy cheeks and a tender, swollen jaw. It spreads through direct contact with saliva or respiratory droplets from the mouth, nose, or throat. An infected person can spread the virus by coughing, sneezing, or talking; sharing items that may have saliva on them, such as water bottles or cups; participating in close-contact activities with others, such as playing sports, dancing, or kissing; and touching objects or surfaces with unwashed hands that are then touched by others.


Rubella is another contagious disease caused by a virus. Most people who get rubella usually have a mild illness with symptoms that can include a low-grade fever, sore throat, and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the rest of the body. Rubella can cause a miscarriage or serious birth defects in a developing baby if a woman is infected while she is pregnant. The best protection against rubella is the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine.


Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It can cause an itchy, blister-like rash. The rash appears first on the chest, back and face and then spreads over the entire body, causing between 250 to 500 itchy blisters. Chickenpox can be serious — especially in babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system. Pneumococcal disease Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcus, is a type of bacterium that causes pneumococcal disease. Pneumococcal infections can range from ear and sinus infections to pneumonia and bloodstream infections. Children younger than two years old and adults 65 years or older are among those most at risk for disease.


Rotavirus spreads easily among infants and young children. The virus can cause severe, watery diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. Children who get rotavirus disease can become dehydrated and may need to be hospitalised. Rotavirus vaccine is the best way to protect your child against rotavirus disease.




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