The days when my daughter was an infant and had to get her shots were one of the worst ones as a new parent. The first time she got them when she barely a few days old and had to get 3 of them at once was the one that gave me nightmares. As she writhed in pain, I looked on helplessly. It was just the start as she then developed fever and swelling in her thigh.
She had her next shot after a month and it thankfully turned out better as she had very little fever and no swelling. But the fever came back when she had her yearly shot. This made me think if I should have gone for the painless vaccine as she would have suffered less? But hadn’t I heard that these vaccines are not as effective and if the child can sustain the pain its better to go for the normal vaccine. I read about it, asked people and my daughter’s paediatrician too and here is what I learnt about painless vaccines.
When we talk about painful and painless vaccines, we are generally discussing about DTwP and DTaP vaccine respectively. It is a combination vaccine which provides protection against three major diseases that can prove to be fatal during infancy and early childhood. D stands for Diphtheria, T for Tetanus and P for Pertussis (more commonly known as whooping cough).
This is to note that the only difference between the two vaccines i.e. DTwP and DTaP is in the pertussis vaccine that has been modified. Pertussis vaccine comes as whole cell vaccine (wP) or acellular vaccine (aP).
1)Acellular vaccines or vaccines with less pain contain more purified antigens whereas whole cell vaccines contain some number of other components of a bacteria which are not required. The benefit of more purified antigenic component in a vaccine is that it will produce more appropriate immune response and less side effects. Even paediatricians also experience that acellular vaccines produce less side effects like fever, swelling and redness at injection site etc.
Painless or acellular vaccines contain fewer antigens rather than complete cells which are found in painful variants. Fewer antigens mean they have fewer painful aftereffects than the whole cell vaccines. Its important to note they are not totally pain free as they are administered using a syringe just like the traditional vaccine and will cause pain when they are being administered. However, painless vaccines are safe – they prevent babies from experiencing post-vaccination side effects like fever and painful swelling.
2) Are they less effective? This is a contentious topic; one school of studies says they contain lesser antibodies and hence the effect wears off faster and it provides reduced immunity. However another school of studies suggests that painless vaccines are as effective as the normal ones. It’s important to remember no vaccine is 100% effective. Although the vaccinated child may become immune, the disease can still be passed along through him to other children who have not been vaccinated or who have weak immunity. Similarly, if the child has low immunity, he may get an infection.
3) Side effect: They are not completely painless as the name suggests as pain will be left when they are administered, it’s only the aftereffects that are almost negligible. The downside is they are little expensive compared to the normal vaccines which is worthy to spend as it is easy experience for babies and also less suffering.
So which one should you go for as a parent? There is no easy pick. Make an informed decision after weighing the pros and cons.
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Image courtesy: parenting.firstcry