Vaccines for children: Deciding to vaccinate

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How vaccines work

Vaccines help lower your child's risk of infection. They work with the body's natural defenses to develop protection against a disease.

The main components in all vaccines are antigens. Once in the body, antigens cause the immune system to react by creating:

  • antibodies
  • immune memory

This process helps destroy specific germs that could make your child sick.

Being vaccinated will prevent the disease or lessen its impact.

If your child isn’t vaccinated against some germs, they can get very sick. This is because their immune system isn’t prepared to handle the germs.  

How vaccines are given

Most vaccines are given by needle in the upper arm or thigh. Some vaccines, like the rotavirus vaccine, are given by mouth. There’s also a flu vaccine for children that’s sprayed into the nose.

Some vaccines are given separately. Others, like the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, protect against 3 diseases in one vaccine.

Your child's immune system can learn from more than 1 vaccine at a time. For instance, babies can respond to 10,000 different antigens at any one time.

Vaccine effectiveness

Routinely provided vaccines currently available in Canada can protect your child against 15 serious diseases. Most of these childhood vaccines provide over 90% protection against the disease.

Vaccines are safe, but like any medication or supplement, they can have possible side effects.

While most children develop strong immunity following vaccination, some children may only develop partial protection.

In rare cases, those who have developed only partial immunity after vaccination can become infected and develop disease. However, vaccination helps prevent severe illness and serious outcomes, including death.

Community immunity and disease prevention

The more people who are vaccinated in the community, the lower the risk of infection for those who:

  • aren’t vaccinated
  • developed only partial immunity from the vaccine

This means that when your child is vaccinated, you protect them as well as those around them.

Community immunity helps protect those at high risk of developing disease and severe complications or death, such as:

  • adults 65 years of age and older
  • infants and children too young to be fully vaccinated
  • people with health conditions that affect their immune system, such as those undergoing chemotherapy to treat cancer

Why we need vaccines

Vaccines have successfully lowered the rates of disease in countries with strong vaccination programs.

Some of the diseases that vaccines prevent (like measles, mumps and polio) have no treatment or cure. These diseases can cause:

  • severe illness
  • disability
  • death

Even with improved living conditions and modern hygiene, vaccines are still very important to prevent infections that could make your child very sick.

Some diseases are now rarely seen in Canada because of long-term high rates of vaccination in the population, including:

However, these diseases still exist in some countries, so people who live in them or travel to them may become infected. They can introduce and spread these diseases when they return to Canada. High rates of vaccination against these diseases help to prevent further spread and outbreaks.

The best way to protect your children's health is to prevent these diseases in the first place by keeping their vaccinations up to date. Some examples include:

Measles

Measles is still a leading cause of death in children worldwide, with 89,780 cases in 2016. One person with measles can infect 12 to 18 people who haven’t had the vaccine.

Measles is a very contagious disease. You can catch it by walking into a room that an infected person sneezed in an hour before you entered.

Learn more about measles.

Whooping cough (pertussis)

In Canada, infections like whooping cough are on the rise. This is a serious and life-threatening disease, particularly for babies. About half of all infected babies need hospitalization.

Learn more about whooping cough.

Tetanus

Tetanus is caused by a germ that’s found in dirt and dust. If you haven’t been vaccinated, you can get the disease if you have an open wound and come into contact with these germs. Although the disease is rare in Canada, it’s serious and can cause death. It also has no cure.

Learn more about tetanus.

Poster to share

poster

Download the poster showing how vaccines work

This poster compares the number of cases of 6 vaccine-preventable diseases in Canada before and since the introduction of vaccines.

Vaccination for COVID-19

Evidence suggests that children infected with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms, if any, and aren’t at increased risk of severe disease. That’s why Canada’s vaccine rollout plan prioritizes groups who are at higher risk of:

  • exposure to COVID-19
  • severe illness and death from COVID-19

COVID-19 vaccines will be available at no charge over the course of 2021 to everyone in Canada within the authorized age groups.

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is currently authorized for individuals 16 years of age and older.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends that this vaccine may be offered to youth between 12 and 15 years of age. However, it should only be given in situations where the benefits outweigh the potential risks, such as for youth:

  • at very high risk of severe outcomes
  • are at increased risk of exposure
Other COVID-19 vaccines

The following vaccines aren’t currently authorized for those under 18 years of age:

  • Moderna vaccine
  • Astra Zeneca vaccine
  • Janssen vaccine

Clinical trials are underway to determine the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines among children and youth.

Learn more about:

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