When your baby is sick you take care of her. But, you can stop your baby from getting sick in the first place by vaccinating her against certain diseases.
Vaccinations protect our babies from disease. You may recognize some of the diseases we can vaccinate our children against. They are measles, tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and whooping cough. If some of these names are new to you don’t worry because each one will be explained.
Vaccinations are fluids that are given to babies with a needle or by drops in their mouth. Inside the vaccine fluid there are germs from the disease that we are trying to prevent your baby from getting. Germs usually make a baby sick. But the germs in a vaccine fluid are weak and there are so few of them that they cannot harm a baby. Instead, these germs help a child to fight off the disease by helping her body to make antibodies.
This is how it works. When the weak germs from the vaccine fluid enter our body we start making antibodies to fight them off. These antibodies kill the weak germs from the vaccine and they stay with us after the disease is gone. These antibodies are strong enough to kill the real germs from these diseases.
Some day, if our babies get the germs from these diseases their antibodies will protect them. Our babies won’t become seriously sick and be at risk of dying.
For every disease there is a germ and an antibody. Just as every door has a different lock and key, each disease has a different germ and antibody. Germs cause the disease while antibodies defend our body from them.
When to vaccinate your baby
Did you know that before your baby is born she is protected from some of these diseases? When someone is protected from disease, we say they are “immune”.While a baby is still in the mother’s womb some of the antibodies in the mother’s blood are passed over to her baby. A mother has these antibodies because she herself was once vaccinated.
The antibodies that a mother passes on stay with her baby for a while but then disappear. They disappear because the baby has not made them herself. It is important that you vaccinate your baby before these antibodies go away. The antibodies disappear at different times. This is why you need to take your baby for vaccinations five different times during her first year.
Polio and tuberculosis
The first two diseases that your baby will need protection from are tuberculosis and polio. If your baby has tuberculosis she will cough, lose weight, and have a fever. The symptoms of tuberculosis last a long time. Sometimes this disease makes your baby so weak and thin that she may die. The vaccine for tuberculosis is called a BCG.
A BCG vaccine will protect your baby from the most serious type of childhood tuberculosis. It is important that you remember this because there are many kinds of tuberculosis. If your baby is vaccinated and breathes in the tuberculosis germs she may become sick but her illness won’t be as serious because she has the BCG vaccine.
Polio is a disease that can cripple your baby. Polio weakens your child’s muscles and sometimes these muscles stop growing. In some countries the germ that causes polio has disappeared. Ask your village health worker if polio is a concern in your area. If it is, you need to vaccinate your baby right away. Your child will need three more vaccines for this disease; when she is six weeks, ten weeks and fourteen weeks old.
The vaccines for polio and tuberculosis need to be given soon after birth because the antibodies for these two diseases are not passed on to a baby when she is inside her mother.
Diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus
When your baby is six weeks old she needs to go to the clinic again to get vaccines for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. These vaccines are given together so your baby needs only one needle for these three diseases.
Diphtheria makes breathing very difficult for your baby. Her throat will be sore and her breathing will be loud.
Whooping cough causes your baby to cough. She may cough so much that she throws up and loses weight. Sometimes babies cough for such a long time that they can’t breathe. When this happens, they could turn blue and die.
Your baby can get tetanus when a cut is deep and dirty. It is important that everyone, not just your baby, is vaccinated against tetanus. The tetanus germ can get into a cut and cause muscles to become stiff and painful. Tetanus starts in the jaw and then spreads to other muscles. When muscles are stiff they don’t work properly. Sometimes babies die from tetanus.
If you know anyone who is pregnant, make sure they are vaccinated against tetanus. Tell them to go to the health clinic right away. Pregnant women need to have this vaccine so they can give their babies protection when they are first born.
When your child grows up she will need another vaccine for tetanus. We call this a booster. You should ask your health worker when your child will need a booster for tetanus. Many villages give children a booster when they start school.
Every child needs to be vaccinated against these three diseases three times: at six weeks, ten weeks, and fourteen weeks old. It is very important that you take your baby for all three injections. If you don’t, the vaccines won’t work because your child won’t have enough antibodies to fight off these germs. And remember, a baby that has not received her vaccinations will not be protected from these diseases.
The last disease that your child needs to be protected from is measles. Your baby needs to be vaccinated at nine months. One injection is all a child needs. One needle helps to protect your baby from this disease for life.
In some countries there is a saying, “Don’t count your children until the measles has passed”. Of all the childhood diseases, measles is thought to be the most serious. Many people are familiar with measles because they have seen the rash it causes. It also makes your baby very ill with a fever.
So remember, your baby needs to go to the clinic when she is first born, when she is six weeks old, ten weeks old, fourteen weeks old, and nine months old. Vaccines give your baby the antibodies which fight off the germs from these diseases. Without these antibodies your baby could become very ill and even die. If you vaccinate your baby she will be better protected against the germs of these six diseases.
This script was prepared by Catherine Fergusson, a certified international health nurse living in Toronto, Canada. It was reviewed by Dr. Ivan Roma, M.D., Toronto, Canada.
Facts for life, Peter Adamson, 1993, pages 35‑41.UNICEF, UNICEF House ‑ DH‑40, Facts for Life Unit,33UN Plaza, New York NY 10017, U.S.A.
Children for health, Hugh Hawes and Christine Scotchmer, 1993, pages 114‑123. Child‑to‑Child Trust, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, U.K.
Dr. AMREF radio talks, Roy Shaffer, 1990, pages 53‑59. African Medical and Research Foundation, Wilson Airport, P.O. Box 30125,Nairobi, Kenya.
Child‑to‑child: a resource book, Grazyna Bonati and Hugh Hawes, 1992, pages 105‑112. Child‑to‑Child Trust, Institute of Education 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, U.K.