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To immunize or not to immunize – that is the question. Recently, questions have arisen regarding commonly accepted practices of immunization for both children and adults. Which shots are really necessary? And what about side effects? The answers to these questions can have a direct bearing on the health and well-being of your family.

Immunization programs have proven effective in controlling many diseases, from tetanus to polio, diptheria to whooping cough. So, what do these immunizations actually do? They strengthen the body’s immunity to the disease in either of two ways – active or passive immunization.

Active imunization contains a weakened or killed pathogen, modified in such a way that it is harmless to the body. The body’s own defence mechanisms begin to form killer molecules called anti-bodies that can fightb the real disease agent if and when it tries to invade the body. These shots don’t take effect immediately. It takes a period of time for the body to make anti-bodies.

Passive immunization is normally reserved for cases when a patient has been exposed to a serious disease. In that case, the body doesn’t have time to build up it’s own anti-bodies, so some-one elses anti-bodies, already formed, are injected to fight the pathogens in the exposed person. Once the disease has been beaten, the foreign anti-bodies are flushed out of the system.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following immunizations for babies:

Diptheria, Pertussis, Tetanus

This is normally combined into one shot known as DPT. Another shot for measles, mumps and rubella – MMR – is recommended for children over the age of one.

So, what about possible side-effects? Beyond, the immediate pain of the injection, any discomfort normally subsides after a day or so. However, concerns have emerged with regard to a component of the DPT shot known as pertussis – the part that controls whooping cough. Serious side effects have occurred in 1 out of 100,000 cases. These include seizures and even brain damage.

Pertussis has, however, proven very effective at eliminating whooping cough as a threat to immunized children. Experts have concluded, then, that it is far safer to take the vaccine than to catch the disease. Here is how one expert summed up the situation.

“Parents should be informed about every medical intervention for their child.They are responsible for the protection and well-being of their child.”

May we all take that responsibility very seriously and, therefore, be as informed as possible regarding any medical procedure that we may encounter.