What makes an immunization so effective and what exactly am I giving my child?
Immunizations contain antigens. Antigens prompt the immune system to respond against infection. It is believed that this reaction teaches the immune system the correct way to fight the infection without giving your child the actual disease.
The antigen may be in the form of a weakened live virus. Because the live virus is too weak to give your child the full-blown symptoms, but strong enough to awaken the immune system, the process achieves it goals.
Some antigens contain inactive viruses. These are used in diseases such as polio, hepatitis, influenza, and rabies because even a small live dose of these viruses is too much of a risk to the child.
Partial bacteria are the main ingredient in some immunizations. These are most commonly used in pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria, and tetanus. In these immunizations, the sugar coating in the bacteria is what the immune system is taught to recognize and fight. Formaldehyde is also in these immunizations to inactivate the actual virus, but not breakdown the chemical composition of the bacteria itself.
Finally, immunizations contain preservatives, to ward against contamination, additives, to allow for prolonged storage, and certain residual ingredients in very small doses. Some immunizations contain antibiotics to prevent bacterial contamination when the immunization is mass-produced. Egg proteins are also introduced during the manufacturing process, but only in trace amounts, so there is not risk for children with a predisposition to experience an allergic reaction.
As you can see, immunizations are not a big mystery. Furthermore, when a child receives any immunization, Federal law mandates that the parent be given a complete data sheet, which outlines the reason for the immunization and the possible side effects. Pediatricians are also very helpful in explaining the contents of the immunization prior to it being administered.