For First Nations and Inuit – Vaccines: how they protect children

Children are valued members of First Nations and Inuit communities. Parents and caregivers have the responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of their children. Part of that responsibility is to protect children from vaccine-preventable diseases and illnesses by getting them immunized.

Get all the facts about vaccines and how they can protect your children and your community.

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Did you know?

The terms vaccination and immunization mean the same thing. You may also know this as "getting your needles."

What are vaccines?

Vaccines protect your children from specific diseases, so each vaccine is different. Most vaccines contain a small amount of a virus or bacteria (germs). These germs cannot harm your children because they have been weakened, or made inactive, before use.

Every vaccine is tested thoroughly to make sure it is safe for use.

Most vaccines protect us for a very long time--sometimes for life. Others (for example, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) must be repeated every 10 years. These repeated immunizations are called boosters and are meant to increase your body's ability to protect itself.

Did you know?

Immunization is the best way to protect your child from vaccine-preventable diseases. Keep your children strong!

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines help your child's immune system produce two important tools:

  • antibodies - to fight off the specific disease
  • immune memory - to help children in case they are exposed to the disease again in the future

Once children have been immunized, their immune systems respond as if they had been infected. The advantage is the children do not have any symptoms. Later on, if children encounter the illness naturally, their immune systems have the antibodies needed to respond immediately. This "immune memory" response protects children before the infection can take hold.

It is important for children to receive their vaccines on time. Most children who receive all of their vaccines on time are well protected. In some cases, children only get partial protection from a vaccine. This means that even if they are immunized, they might have mild symptoms of the illness. In the rare cases where this happens, immunization usually protects children from developing serious complications.

Once someone has been sick with a vaccine-preventable disease, they become naturally immune to it. Immunity created by most vaccines is just as effective as natural immunity. The important difference is your children do not get sick. Without the vaccine, no one knows how sick your children could get.

Did you know?

The dangers of vaccine-preventable diseases are much greater than the risks of a serious reaction to a vaccine.

Reasons to immunize

For generations, First Nations and Inuit have used traditional knowledge to prevent and treat illnesses. Some of this knowledge is still shared and used today. Vaccines are also good medicine for your child. Vaccines help protect children from a number of diseases, even some serious enough to cause death.

Exposure to germs

By nature, young children are curious and friendly. They like to explore and experience new things. During this stage of their development, children are exposed to germs every day. Whether at the daycare, a powwow or a community gathering--germs are everywhere and can be spread easily by:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • touching
  • talking

Germs can live for hours or days on surfaces like doorknobs, toys, desks and tables. Fortunately, most of these germs are harmless because your child's immune system can fight against them. But some diseases are serious. Vaccines can help your child's immune system fight off these diseases. Getting immunized early in life and on time will protect children now and throughout their lives.

Breastfeeding and vaccines

Breastfeeding is important, but it will not provide your children effective protection against vaccine-preventable disease.

The protection breast milk provides is incomplete. It can be overcome if the baby is exposed to large amounts of germs. Also, any protection provided by breast milk disappears as soon as breastfeeding stops.

The risks of not immunizing

It takes time for the body's immune system to respond to bacteria or viruses that may make you sick. An unvaccinated child's immune system may not have enough time to respond to infection. Serious health complications or even death can happen before the immune system gets a chance to fight back.

When you immunize your child, you help to keep these diseases under control--for good.

Vaccine safety

Vaccines are effective and safe. Canada has a strict approval and monitoring process for vaccines. Vaccines are monitored from the time they are made to the time they are given and afterward. Any side effects vaccines may cause are also tracked by Canada's reporting system.

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