Six-year-old Mohammed Shaaz is down with measles, although he was vaccinated against it when he was just a year old.

Similar is the case of 10-year-old Anushree Gowda, who contracted chickenpox although her parents had followed the paediatrician’s advice and got her vaccinated against it.

These are not stray cases. Several children, despite vaccinations, have been getting these infections, leaving parents to wonder if vaccines provide any protection at all.

Paediatricians, who admit that not all vaccinations are 100 per cent effective, say a majority of the vaccines are only 90 per cent to 95 per cent effective.

A vaccine is an antigenic preparation used to produce active immunity to a disease to prevent or reduce the effects of infection. “Many vaccines require multiple doses for maximum effectiveness, either to produce sufficient initial immune response or to boost response that fades over time. However, none provide total protection,” admits paediatrician H. Paramesh.

Pointing out that vaccination can reduce the severity of the infection, Dr. Paramesh, who is also the Director of Lakeside Hospital, says: “There are several studies to show that children vaccinated for a particular strain of virus end up getting the same infection.”

Advising parents to follow the national immunisation schedule, he says: “There are a number of additional vaccines against infections such as rotavirus, pneumonia, Japanese Encephalitis among others, which are optional. Doctors have to explain to the parents about these vaccines, who can then take a call based on the affordability factor. But this is not fair; I strongly feel there should be a common schedule of immunisation for all children.”

Shivananda, Director of the state-run Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, says vaccines against chickenpox, Hepatitis ‘A’, typhoid, pneumonia, rotavirus and flu are left to the discretion of parents.

“These vaccines are mandatory in the West. Although they are not part of the national schedule in India, parents should get their children vaccinated for these infections too. We have been explaining this to the parents coming to our hospital. Even if the vaccines do not provide total protection, the infection will be mild,” he says.

Parents confused

Shailaja R. Kumar, Anushree’s mother, says it was too confusing to decide on the additional vaccines. While some doctors ask parents to take a call on these additional vaccines, a few others believe that children must contract with viral infections (chickenpox, mumps) to build up immunity. “Obviously, these conflicting views within the medical fraternity will confuse parents. Either they should be made mandatory or should be dropped,” she says.

Business interests?

Health activists say most of the additional vaccines actually have strong business interests lurking behind them. An activist from Janandolona Arogya alleges that doctors are usually “influenced” by the pharmaceutical industry to promote their products.

“While not all doctors fall to these promotion tactics by the industry, there are some who don’t,” he adds.