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Children have a right to vaccination

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[09.10.2017]

Many millions of people worldwide suffer from infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, which can be avoided via timely vaccination. In Germany too, many children are not protected against the dangerous pathogens of measles, tetanus or whooping cough because some parents consciously opt against immunization. Therefore, Prof. Dr. Philipp Henneke, head of the Pediatric Infectiology and Rheumatology Section of the Center for Pediatrics at the Medical Center - University of Freiburg, advocates a "fundamental right to vaccination".

Which vaccines are indispensable in your experience?

The permanent vaccination committee - called Stiko - recommends a total of 14 vaccinations for infants and children in Germany. I can only confirm this recommendation. This includes immunizations against hepatitis B, diphtheria, poliomyelitis, hemophilia B, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella.

How do vaccinations work?

Vaccinations are rather like emergency training for the body. It can prepare itself against dangerous pathogens without suffering any damage. This immune response is remembered by the body, which can then react quickly and effectively to a real infection. Vaccination really is like a workout, in that afterward you also sometimes notice that a slight fever or malaise occurs. But that usually passes quickly.

Why do you recommend vaccination?

Vaccinations are one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine, because they reliably protect against some of the most dangerous infectious diseases. They should be as self-evident as the wound disinfection or sterile surgical cutlery. Vaccines themselves are among the best-studied and controlled medicinal substances. Unwanted side effects are extremely rare and must be reported immediately. Many fears of so-called vaccination skeptics, such as an alleged autism risk from measles vaccination, have been disproved for decades.

What do you say to parents who reject measles vaccination?

These parents expose their child to an unpredictable risk. In the worst case, children suffer severe, irreversible brain damage from measles infection. In addition, in the case of an easily transmitted disease such as measles: I protect others by protecting myself. We have a paradoxical situation: on the one hand, UNICEF regularly invites donations for measles vaccinations in developing countries. In Germany, on the other hand, we have an excellent medical infrastructure, but some people ignore these clear vaccine recommendations. As a result, we have not managed to eradicate measles for years.

Hepatitis B is on the rise worldwide. Can the disease be mitigated by increased vaccination efforts?

Yes. Hepatitis B is a typical example of a disease that in almost all cases can be prevented by vaccination. This vaccination should be carried out as a rule during the child's first year as part of the general basic immunization. In certain cases, if the mother herself is suffering from hepatitis B, vaccination may be necessary on the day of birth. Without vaccination protection, the hepatitis infection in the infant is chronic in nine out of ten of these small patients, and can lead to liver cancer. According to current knowledge, if immunization is carried out in childhood, these people will be protected long-term or even permanently.

In other countries, such as France and Italy, comprehensive vaccination is already required. Would you wish this for Germany as well?

I prefer to speak of a "fundamental right to vaccination". This is a right for each individual child. For those with child custody and the medical profession there is a duty to care for, and as far as possible fend off damage to, these youngest ones.

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