Benefits and Risks by Health Canada
Vaccines are a safe and effective way to give children
immunity against a number of potentially serious diseases. Babies are
born with a certain amount of natural protection against disease, which
comes in the form of antibodies they get from their mothers. However,
the natural protection does not last past the first year of life and
young children are at risk for a number of diseases that can be
serious, and even fatal. Fortunately, parents in Canada have free
access to vaccines that can immunize their children against such
diseases as polio, measles, mumps, and whooping cough.
Childhood immunization helps the immune system build up
resistance to disease. It works by giving children vaccines containing
tiny amounts of viruses or bacteria that are dead, weakened, or
purified components. The vaccines prompt the child's immune system to
produce antibodies that will attack the virus or bacteria to prevent
disease. The child's immune system stores the information about how to
produce those particular antibodies, and responds if the child is
exposed to that same virus or bacteria in the future.
In Canada, vaccines to prevent the following diseases are
considered routine, and are given free of charge to children in all
provinces and territories:
pertussis (whooping cough)
rubella (German measles)
measles (red measles)
Haemophilus influenza type b disease
These vaccines are given by needle "shots." In Canada, the
hepatitis B vaccine is given alone. The other vaccines are given in
combination, according to specific schedules that usually start when
your baby is two months old. If you have young children, you should
check with your doctor or public health nurse to make sure they are
getting the right shots at the right time.
There are also vaccines to protect against varicella
(chickenpox), influenza, and some forms of meningitis, but these are
not given on a routine basis across Canada. Talk to your health care
provider to find out if these shots are right for your child. If your
family is planning to travel outside of Canada, you should also make
sure that everyone's shots are up to date.
The Benefits and
Risks of Childhood Immunization
Vaccines in Canada are safe, and the benefits of immunization
far outweigh the risks. There is no reason to suffer from a disease if
there is a safe and effective way to prevent it.
Many youngsters have some swelling or tenderness at the spot
where the vaccine is injected, and some may also develop a mild fever,
but these reactions are minor and temporary. Serious side effects such
as severe allergic reactions can occur, but are extremely rare, and
occur in Canada less often than once per million doses of vaccine.
On the other hand, the diseases that vaccines fight pose
serious threats. Diseases such as polio, diphtheria, measles, and
whooping cough can lead to paralysis, pneumonia, choking, brain damage,
heart problems, and even death in children who are not protected.
Immunization is a Public Health Issue
Because of vaccines, these diseases are no longer common in
Canada. However, it is still important to immunize your child for the
When immunization rates drop, these diseases come back. For
example, a drop in pertussis (whooping cough) vaccinations in Britain
in 1974 was followed by a whooping cough epidemic that killed 36 people
Diseases do not stop at borders. People can carry
vaccine-preventable diseases into Canada and spread them to children
who are not vaccinated.
To protect others. Some people can't have vaccines because of
allergies or other reasons. An unvaccinated child with a
vaccine-preventable disease is a threat to these people.
Health Canada's Role
Health Canada regulates vaccines through a rigorous licensing
process that includes an extensive pre-market review of information
about a product's safety and effectiveness, and post-market
assessments, such as adverse reaction tracking. In addition, Health
Canada monitors and analyzes the incidence of vaccine-preventable
diseases, identifies risk factors, develops guidelines for the control
of vaccine-preventable diseases, and works with the provinces and
territories during emergency situations to help ensure that outbreaks
of disease are contained.
Health Canada also participates in public information
initiatives, such as the Canadian Immunization Awareness Program, and
works globally with other countries to develop and implement
disease-reduction or eradication strategies.
Minimizing Your Risks
Our society depends on everyone working together to ensure
that all of us can be safe. One of the ways you can play your part is
to make sure that your child gets the right shots at the right time.
Call your health care provider to set up a time for your
Talk to your health care provider about ways to handle the
minor side effects of shots, such as mild fever and tenderness.
Ask for a written record to help you keep track of your
Health Canada is the Federal department responsible for helping
Canadians maintain and improve their health, while respecting
individual choices and circumstances.