Vaccines : Are they safe?
Dr Sophie Flammarion, Consultant Paediatrician, has recently joined La Clinique Française and so I had the opportunity to ask her a question which I know puzzles many French and international mothers living in the UK. Sophie is French and practices part-time in the world famous St Thomas's Hospital in Central London so she is exceptionally well placed to answer the question.
A few days after his election as President of the United States, Donald Trump announced his intention to set up a government commission on "Vaccine Safety and Scientific Integrity".
This announcement has revived an already growing global defiance towards vaccines.
Today, 41% of all French people doubt their safety. Gardasil remains at the heart of an endless scandal. And 12% of us believe that childhood vaccinations are no longer justified.
In England, the concerns of French expatriates are multiplied tenfold because of differences in the standard vaccination schedules between the two countries.
Dr Flammarion, Consultant Paediatrician at La Clinique Française, says: "Vaccination is a major strategy in the prevention of infectious diseases. And, like any medical procedure, in rare circumstances it may cause severe or localised allergic side effects.
Between France and England, the differences in immunisation programmes are merely differences of timing.
I advise families with infants living in London to follow the British schedule: vaccinations at 2 months, 3 months and 4 months with boosters at 1 year and 3 years. In France the same injections are done at 2 months, 4 months, 1 year and a booster at 6 years.
What counts is the total number of injections for each vaccine. And do not start all over again when you move. But it is important to adopt local recommendations.
So for example vaccination against Meningitis B is recommended in the UK and 90% of the population follows this recommendation.
This is not the case in France where incidence of the disease is less and so it is not a public health concern justifying systematic vaccination.
There is also what I call collective prevention. For example, in England babies are no longer routinely vaccinated against Meningitis C before they are one year old because they benefit from very wide engagement and involvement with their local community and so enjoy "group immunity."
What do you think about the renewal of the vaccination policy proposed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on 12 January 2016?
Dr Flammarion: "This is an action plan that follows a civic consultation. Its goal is to restore confidence and increase immunisation coverage at all ages.
It emphasises the transparency of information and the education of the school population. It focuses on protecting the most vulnerable communities such as infants, the immunocompromised and the elderly. It will introduce an electronic vaccination card that will ensure reliable follow-up."
Some parents think that it is better to be immunised by the disease than by the vaccine.
Dr Flammarion: "Even though immunity acquired naturally sometimes lasts longer, a booster also provides this prolonged immunity. And vaccines protect against the risks of serious complications. For varicella, the vaccine can even protect against recurrences of shingles."
Does injecting multiple vaccines at the same time increase the risk of side effects or "overload" of the child's immune system?
Dr Flammarion: "On the contrary, immunity is stimulated and the vaccination response is better. You can expect a fever peak, not serious, in the evening following the vaccination. And it is now easy to improve your child’s comfort with anaesthetic patches, a teat, sugary solution painkillers, etc."
Are the additives present in the vaccines such as aluminum and mercury not dangerous?
Dr Flammarion: "It's the dose that makes the poison. The quantities injected are weak or even lower than your child will experience in everyday life. These additions are not responsible for causing autism spectrum disorders as President Donald Trump seems to suggest for MMR (measles-mumps rubella)."
(* Results of a pan-European study published in Le Monde of September 2016)