The 24th-30th April this year is European Immunisation Week, and an opportunity for me and my colleagues to emphasise the importance of the vaccinations that we offer all children registered at our surgeries. It’s an unusual day when my practice nurses aren’t seeing a baby or two for their immunisations, and out of all the many services I offer at my surgery, I don’t believe there is anything safer and more beneficial to my patients. The GP of two or three generations ago would commonly deal with some truly awful infections in babies and young children: illnesses like diphtheria, polio, and whooping cough that caused untold misery and indeed cases of lasting disability and death. Thanks to the immunisation programmes of the last decades, these illnesses are now either very rare, or extinct: the whole of Europe was declared polio-free in 2002. More recently, we have seen newer vaccines become available for children – we now vaccinate children against viruses that cause diarrhoea and sickness, and against some of the bacteria that can cause meningitis.
Some immunisations have had some controversy around them in the last several years. However, the scare stories around immunisations such as the MMR are exactly that – stories. The safety of all of these immunisations, and especially the MMR, has been demonstrated time and time again through studies of huge numbers of children. My own daughters have had all of their immunisations according to the schedule that all of your children will be offered, and I don’t know of a single health professional with children who hasn’t done the same.
On the noticeboard above my desk, I have a picture of my medical hero – Dr Edward Jenner, the Gloucestershire doctor who invented the first immunisation, for smallpox, in 1796. He is the only doctor in history who can claim that his work has completely eradicated a disease from mankind, and millions of people since owe their lives and wellbeing to the work that followed from him. Each immunisation that we offer is a small medical miracle, and I still find it remarkable that something that has become so commonplace is still saving the lives of children on a daily basis.
More information on protecting your child now and in the future with immunisations can be found in Mid Essex CCG's Common Childhood Illness and Wellbeing handbook.
NHS Choices also has a useful series of pages about the immunisation schedule and this also includes some frequently asked questions. Your GP, practice nurse or health visitor would also be happy to answer any questions about them. The vaccination of every child is absolutely vital to prevent diseases and protect life; I believe that it is the single most useful and important service I offer as a GP.