An immunization, or vaccination, is an injection of weakened or killed bacteria, viruses, or, in some cases, deactivated toxins that is given to protect against or reduce the effects of certain infectious diseases. When your child receives an injection of, for example, a small amount of tetanus toxoid, her immune system produces antibodies to fight this foreign substance. Should your child later be exposed to tetanus, her body’s defense system will remember and rapidly form antibodies against the bacteria, thus preventing the disease from gaining a hold within the body.
The following vaccinations are among those most commonly recommended for children.
- DPT, or diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus, is designed to protect against three different diseases: diphtheria, a rare but potentially fatal disease that affects the upper respiratory tract, the heart, and kidneys; pertussis, or whooping cough, a disease that is particularly dangerous for children under one year of age and can lead to pneumonia, seizures, and other complications; and tetanus, a potentially deadly infection of the central nervous system.
- DT, or diphtheria/tetanus, is an alternative to DPT, without the pertussis vaccine. It is designed to protect against diphtheria and tetanus only.
- Hemophilus influenzae (H. flu.) meningitis type B vaccine, or Hib vaccine, protects against a common bacterial infection that can lead to meningitis, a potentially fatal brain disease. Complications of H. flu. meningitis include pneumonia, hearing loss, and possible learning disabilities. There is now a combination DPT and Hib vaccine available that reduces the number of injections a child must receive to be immunized against all of these diseases.
- The hepatitis B vaccine, the most recent addition to the list of routinely administered vaccines, protects against one of the more serious forms of hepatitis, hepatitis B. This is an infection of the liver that, while not highly contagious, can lead to chronic liver disease or even liver cancer. This vaccine is now being recommended for all children, starting a day or two after birth. Parents are also being encouraged to arrange for the vaccination of unimmunized older children and adolescents.
- MMR-or measles/mumps/rubella also works to prevent three different diseases: measles, a highly contagious viral disease characterized by fever and rash, whose danger lies in the possibility of such serious complications as pneumonia, strep infections, and encephalitis; mumps, a contagious viral disease that causes fever and swollen glands around the neck and throat (and, rarely, the testicles); and rubella, or German measles, a viral disease involving fever and a mild rash that causes relatively little discomfort to the affected child, but that can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth defects if a woman is exposed to the virus during pregnancy. Because there have been outbreaks of measles among previously vaccinated college students in the past few years, it is now recommended that children receive a total of two MMR injections, the first at fifteen months and the second either before entering school or at the age of eleven or twelve years.
- The polio vaccine is designed to protect against poliomyelitis, an acute viral infection that can lead to paralysis and death. Vaccination against polio involves a more complicated set of decisions than other vaccinations do. Immunization against polio may be accomplished either by an injection of inactivated, dead vaccine, or by live vaccine, which is taken by mouth. The live vaccine present in the oral form appears to give somewhat better immunity than the injectible form does, and has therefore been generally recommended in the United States. However, it also poses a higher risk of complications. An estimated six or seven children come down with polio every year as a result of receiving this vaccine. For this reason, this form of polio vaccine is specifically not recommended for a child with a compromised immune system. Also, it is possible for an unimmunized person to contract polio from a child who has been given the live vaccine, even if the child has no noticeable reaction to it. This poses a particular danger if a child has friends or family members who have not been vaccinated, or who have impaired immune function. In such cases, the injectible, inactivated form is recommended. A newer, more potent form of the injectible vaccine now appears to give better immunity than the original one did, while still avoiding the risk of a child (or others with whom she comes in contact) getting the disease as a result of the immunization. Some doctors who recommend the oral, live vaccine take other measures to reduce the chance of a child contracting the virus from it, such as giving the injectible version for the first dose, then switching to the oral form for the additional doses.
- Immunization against rubella may be recommended if your child is a girl between thirteen and sixteen years old who has not received the MMR vaccine (see above) or had German measles.
- The tetanus toxoid vaccine protects against tetanus, an infection of the central nervous system that can be fatal. It is usually given to children in the form of a DPT or DT immunization (see above), but it can be administered individually.
Other immunizations, or changes in the conventional immunization schedule may be recommended for special reasons, such as illness or travel.
Any immunization can produce an adverse reaction. Some of the more common reactions include irritability, malaise, low-grade fever, and soreness or irritation at the site of the injection. These discomforts can be treated simply, at home, with the natural remedies outlined in this entry. More rare, but more serious, reactions include allergic reactions, seizures, neurological problems, and “screaming syndrome,” persistent screaming that lasts for three or more hours. After your child receives a vaccination, keep a watchful eye out for any possible reaction. If your child develops a fever higher than 102°F, screams inconsolably, goes into shock, has a seizure, or becomes fretful and irritable after an immunization, call your doctor or seek emergency treatment immediately. These symptoms could indicate a dangerous reaction to a vaccine.
After a vaccination, the site of the injection will probably be red and slightly swollen. A warm wash or compress may help relieve the discomfort, but do not rub the area.
If your child experiences pain after an immunization, you can give her acetaminophen (Tylenol or the equivalent).
Note: In excessive doses, this drug can cause liver damage. Read package directions carefully so as not to exceed the proper dosage for your child’s age and size.
For age-appropriate dosages of nutritional supplements, see Dosage Guidelines for Herbs and Nutritional Supplements.
Begin giving your child vitamin C with bioflavonoids prior to the administration of any vaccine, to help strengthen her immune system. Give a child two years or older one dose daily for one week before and one week after the vaccine. For a nursing infant, a mother can take 1,500 milligrams of vitamin C with bioflavonoids a day, starting one week before the injection.
Lactobacillus bifidus helps to reestablish healthy flora in the bowel and clear the body of the aftereffects of an immunization. Give your child the bifidus either one hour before or one hour after a meal, following the dosage directions on the product label.
Echinacea can be helpful for a baby who has a relatively minor reaction to an immunization, such as a localized infection, low-grade fever, or mild irritability. These herbs boost the immune system. A breastfeeding mother should take 40 drops, twice daily, for three days after her child has been vaccinated.
Thuja will help prevent a fever or irritability, whether your baby or older child has a noticeable negative reaction after receiving a vaccine or not. If there is a complication, Thuja becomes even more important. Give your child a dose of Thuja 200x immediately after the injection.
Ledum is useful for all puncture-type wounds, and can help alleviate some of the reaction at the injection site. Give your child one dose of Ledum 12x or 6c immediately after the vaccination, and another dose four hours later.
Bach Flower Remedies
Give your child Bach Flower Rescue Remedy to
relieve emotional stress and fright after a vaccination. We recommend that you
bring Rescue Remedy to your doctor’s office, and give it to your child right
after she receives an injection. Mix 1 or 2 drops in a bottle or glass of water
and have her sip it over the next several hours, or put one or two drops of
the undiluted remedy under her tongue.
(See Bach Flower Remedies.)
Discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of any vaccine for your individual child before she receives it, to make sure it is right for her.
Give your child one dose of Bach Flower Rescue Remedy immediately after any vaccine is administered.
To minimize discomfort at the site of the injection, give your child a dose of homeopathic Thuja.
The only sure way to prevent your child from having a reaction to a vaccine is to not have your child receive it. If you have your child immunized, your best defense against reactions is to watch your child closely following all vaccinations, and if symptoms of a reaction develop, contact your doctor right away.
A child who has had an immediate, severe reaction to a previous immunization-such as a seizure, screaming syndrome, or a fever of 105°F or higher-should not be given that vaccine again. If your child’s doctor is unwilling to take this concern seriously, you may wish to consider seeking another doctor.
From Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child by Janet Zand, N.D., L.Ac., Robert Rountree, MD, Rachel Walton, RN, ©1994. Published by Avery Publishing, New York. For personal use only; neither the digital nor printed copy may be copied or sold. Reproduced by permission.