What is currently used and why is it being changed?
Babies are already given a four in one vaccine, by injection in three stages at 2, 3 and 4 months old, which protects against diptheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and Hib (a meningitis bacteria).
As well as this, babies are protected against Polio in the form of drops on their tongue.
The current DTP/Hib jab that protects against four diseases is to be scrapped because it contains a mercury-based preservative that has been linked to autism and learning difficulties. The government says the five-in-one is an improvement because it uses inactivated polio vaccine, removing the risk associated with use of the live vaccine.
What is the five-in-one?
The proposed new vaccine eliminates the need for oral polio drops by adding the polio protection to the already used four-in-one vaccine.
What is Polio?
Polio is a virus that infects the nervous system and can lead to paralysis, breathing problems and even death.
The current vaccination for Polio consist of drops on the tongue. These drops are minute doses of the live virus and encourage the body to produce antigens to fight the virus and give life-long natural protection.
However, every year in the UK up to 12 babies are seriously injured or even die due to receiving the live polio vaccine, which can cause a very rare form of polio.
Parents are also warned to be extra careful when changing baby’s nappy as the polio virus passes through the gut and can pass the disease onto any unprotected person.
The five in one vaccine will eliminate this risk as the polio used in this form will be inactivated, meaning it is not a live form of the virus so it cannot cause the disease.
What is the link between whooping cough and autism?
An American study found that children with autism have trouble excreting mercury from their bodies and could be storing it in their cells instead.
The whooping cough vaccine contains thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in vaccines. Interestingly, thimerosal is not used in the MMR vaccine around which a lot of the controversy is centred.
More research is needed to ascertain the link between mercury and autism. However, despite this, the UK government have also announced that mercury will no longer be used in the whooping cough vaccine.
So should I vaccinate or not?
Because of the huge controversy surrounding the MMR, parents everywhere spend an agonising time deciding whether or not to vaccinate their children. The media response to this has introduced more than a little scare-mongering.
Remember that the child immunisation programme has all but eradicated some potentially dangerous illnesses. Smallpox is an example of a disease that is now a thing of the past in the UK.
However, it’s been shown that, when vaccination take-up drops for any reason, infectious diseases can start to spread again. No vaccine is 100 per cent effective and public health experts maintain that high levels of take-up are needed to prevent epidemics re-emerging.
There is a view that the incidence of many infectious diseases was already on the wane, as a result of improved sanitation and public health and, in time, they would have disappeared anyway. However, it is impossible to be sure about this.
It is ultimately your choice – you do not have to have your child vaccinated, it is important that you read up about the immunisations and diseases so that you can make an informed choice . Links between autism and the MMR are questionable according to research. With every vaccine there is a risk of some sort, there always has been. However, the risks associated with the diseases these vaccines prevent are far greater.