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Immunization is a method of producing artificial immunity to infectious diseases, usually involving a course of injections.

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Immunization is a way of boosting the body's defences against infectious diseases. Most immunizations use a vaccine containing a tiny amount of a weakened or inactivated form of a diseasecausing organism (see Vaccines and immunoglobulins). When the vaccine is introduced into your body, it stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies against the disease so that you are protected if you are exposed to the actual organism at some time in the future. Vaccines are given by injection. For most immunizations, several injections of the vaccine are given over a period of months or years to build up adequate protection.

Timing of immunizations

Most routine immunizations are given during infancy and childhood according to an immunization schedule. In addition, people who are at particular risk, because of the nature of their work or travel, may be offered extra immunizations during their adult life. Keep records of all your immunizations and those of your children in case a doctor other than your GP needs to know about your immune status.

Babies and children

Most immunizations are given to babies during their first year, when infectious diseases are most likely to be serious. A baby has some natural protection from antibodies that pass through the placenta during pregnancy, but this immunity wears off by about 6 months after birth. Premature babies are immunized routinely because they are at high risk of serious illness if they develop an infection.

By the time children start school, they will have completed most of their schedule of immunizations. A BCG vaccination against tuberculosis is given around puberty, and booster doses of some vaccines are given to school leavers aged 16-18 years. Timings can be adjusted if a child starts the schedule late.

Special circumstances

Adults sometimes need a booster dose in special circumstances. For example, you may need an extra injection against tetanus if you sustain a deep or dirty cut. Influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia can be serious disorders, particularly in people over the age of 65 or in those who have reduced immunity because of long-term conditions such as diabetes mellitus or HIV infection and AIDS. Both children and adults in these highrisk groups are offered immunization against these diseases. You may also need to have extra immunizations if you plan to travel to a country that has a high incidence of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and yellow fever (see Travel immunizations).

Risks of immunization

Immunizations have few side effects, although there may be some inflammation around the injection site or a mild fever. If you have any reactions to initial doses, tell your doctor so that he or she can advise you about subsequent doses. Serious side effects are extremely rare. Concern that immunization with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine may be associated with autism and Crohn's disease have not been substantiated. Research has shown that, in general, the risks to children from routine immunizations are substantially lower than the risks associated with the diseases against which they protect.

Homeopathic types of vaccine have been shown to be ineffective. If you rely on them, you could be putting yourself or your children at risk.

HEALTH ACTION: Routine immunizations

Immunizations give protection against several infectious diseases and are scheduled during childhood. Serious reactions to immunizations are rare; consult your doctor if you are worried.

Posted 30.06.2010


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