Don't wait vaccinate: a guide to immunization for First Nations and Inuit parents and caregivers

Learn about vaccines and how they protect your child. Also find tips for planning your child's vaccinations and what to expect after a vaccine.

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Vaccines protect children

For First Nations:

Children have a special place within First Nations communities. They make families stronger and communities whole. Elders have taught that each child carries a special gift that they will use when they grow to be the caregivers, leaders and visionaries of their communities.

Elders share knowledge of medicines that have been used for generations. These 'good medicines' have been used by First Nations communities to prevent sickness and heal those who are ill. Many of these medicines are still used today.

Vaccines are also good medicine for your child. They help protect children from a number of diseases, some of which can be very serious and cause death.

For Inuit:

Children are valued as members of the Inuit community. Parents and caregivers have the responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of their children. Part of this responsibility is to protect children from vaccine preventable diseases and illnesses by getting them immunized.

For generations, Inuit have used traditional knowledge to prevent and treat illnesses. Some of these are still shared and used today. With advances in medicine, vaccines have been developed. They help protect children from a number of diseases, some of which can be very serious and even cause death.

Did you know

The terms vaccination and immunization mean the same thing.

What is a vaccine?

A vaccine is the substance given to immunize your child. This substance contains killed or weakened germs of a specific disease in order to protect your child from getting the real disease.

Vaccines help your child's immune system produce 2 important tools: antibodies that fight off the specific disease and immune memory that helps children in case they are exposed to the disease again in the future.

Vaccines are safe

Vaccines are effective and safe. Canada has a strict approval and monitoring process for vaccines. Vaccines are monitored from the time they are made to the time they are given and afterward. Part of this system includes tracking any side effects.

The dangers of vaccine preventable diseases are much greater than the risks of a serious reaction to a vaccine. It is important for children to receive their vaccines on time. Most children who receive all of their vaccines on time are fully protected from the vaccine preventable diseases they were immunized against. Some children get partial protection from immunizations. This means that they may still have mild symptoms if exposed to one of these diseases, but generally won't have the potentially serious complications.

Did you know

Immunization is the best way to protect your child from vaccine preventable diseases. Keep your children strong!

Exposure to germs

Children are by nature curious and friendly. They are endlessly exploring and experiencing new things. During this period of curiosity, children are exposed to many germs every day through activities such as playing at a daycare centre or with other children in the community, or attending a pow wow or community feast.

Germs can spread very easily. Coughing, sneezing or simply talking are all ways germs can be transmitted. Germs also spread when a child touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth. Germs can live for hours or days on surfaces like doorknobs, toys, desks and tables. Fortunately, most of these germs are harmless because your child's immune system can fight against them.

Some diseases are serious. It's important for your child to get immunized on time so that vaccines can help their immune system fight off disease. Getting vaccines at a young age will protect your child now and throughout their life.

Why immunizations are still needed today

Over the last 50 years, immunization has saved the lives of more babies and children than any other medical intervention. Today, we are lucky. Because most children are immunized, many diseases, such as polio, have almost disappeared — but not completely.

If children are not immunized, these diseases will become more common again. When you immunize your child, you help to keep these diseases under control for good.

Our children often react to our own emotions. If you are anxious or nervous, your child may feel this. Touching, talking or cuddling with your child will help make the vaccination a more comfortable experience.

Vaccine-preventable diseases

For a list of vaccine-preventable diseases, please consult: Vaccines for children: Diseases that vaccines prevent

Is there any chance of an allergic reaction to vaccines?

Like any medicine, there may be a slight chance of an allergic reaction. For this reason, you will be asked to wait 15 minutes after your child's immunization before leaving your health care provider's office or public health office (CLSC in Quebec). You should contact your nurse or health care provider right away if your child is having problems breathing (wheezing noise) or if your child's skin gets red and blotchy (hives). They will know what to do to help your child.

What kind of reactions can I expect?

Most children are fine after immunization. However, your child may:

  • be cranky, fussy, or sleepy (more than usual)
  • have a low fever
  • develop a sore red spot or a small amount of swelling around the area of the injection site

These symptoms are common and do not last very long, a couple of days at the most. Before you leave, ask your nurse or health care provider what you can do for your child to ease any discomfort.

When to get help

If your baby shows signs of any of the following, contact your nurse, doctor or health care provider right away:

  • fever over 40°C or 104°F
  • seizure or convulsions: this is often related to a very high fever
  • crying or fussy for more than 24 hours
  • swelling and redness at the injection site that is getting worse
  • unusually sleepy or unresponsive
  • if you sense that something isn't right after an immunization

How can I help my child?

Understanding what will happen when your child is immunized can help make the experience easier for both of you. Your nurse or health care provider will ask a few questions about your child's health. Be sure to tell them if your child has any illnesses or allergies.

Immunization is an important part of your child's health. Learning the facts about immunization can help you make good decisions to protect your child.

Getting my child immunized

When should I immunize my child?

As a parent or caregiver, your child's health is in your hands. It is important for you to know when and where to get your child's immunizations.

Timing is very important when it comes to immunization. Vaccines work best when given on time; beginning when your child is still very young, as your child is most vulnerable to disease during the first 2 years of life.

An immunization schedule will tell you which immunization to get for your child and at what age. Following the schedule will make sure that your child gets the most benefit from the vaccines.

Immunization schedules are different depending on which province or territory you live in.

Here's an example of a common schedule for when a child may be immunized:

  • 2 months
  • 4 months
  • 6 months
  • 12 to 15 months
  • 18 months; and
  • between the ages of 4 to 6 years

Your nurse or health care provider should provide you with a schedule for your child.

Did you know

Most children can still be immunized even if they have a cold or mild fever.

If you plan to move out of your province or territory in the early years of your child's life, you will want to make sure that your child completes the series of any vaccines they may have started and continues to receive all other scheduled vaccinations. Once settled in your new location, contact your local health care provider or public health office (CLSC in Quebec) for an immunization schedule and have your child vaccinated according to this schedule.

Did you know

Children are best protected when they receive all doses of their vaccines on time.

Life with young children can be very busy. Sometimes things happen which may cause your child to miss one or more of their scheduled vaccinations. Getting back on track is important. You should make an appointment with a nurse or health care provider as soon as possible to get your child's vaccinations up to date.

Where do I take my child for immunization?

Where you take your child will vary depending on where you live — on reserve or in an urban, rural or remote community.

There are a number of different ways to find out where your child can get vaccinated. You can talk to a nurse or health care provider in your community, or contact an urban health centre, family clinic, or another health care facility. You can also do a quick search in the phone book or on the internet for a public health office (CLSC in Quebec).

Why should I keep track of immunization?

Your child's health and well-being are reasons why you should keep track of your child's immunizations. By keeping track of your child's immunization, you can help ensure that your nurse or health care provider has the proper information and that your child receives the right vaccinations on time.

At your first visit, ask your nurse or health care provider for an immunization record (or card). Remember to bring your child's immunization record to each appointment, so that it can be updated each time your child has a vaccination.

An immunization record may be required when your child:

  • starts school
  • is transferred to a school in another area
  • goes to camp
  • receives health care outside the community
  • travels outside the country
  • moves to another community
  • has a new nurse or health care provider

Is immunization required for my child?

Individual provinces and territories have different regulations regarding immunization. Some provinces and territories require that your child's immunization be up to date before starting daycare or school. You can talk to your nurse or health care provider for more information.

Your community and immunization

Immunizing your child promotes good health throughout the community. Sharing this information with your family and friends can encourage other parents to immunize their children as well.

Immunizations not only help protect your child from vaccine preventable diseases, they can also help stop the spread of these diseases in your community. This means you are also protecting the members of your community from disease. The more community members receive immunizations, the more we are able to keep these diseases from coming back and keep communities healthy and strong.

Did you know

The more people who are immunized in your community, the more protection your community has against vaccine preventable diseases.

Quick checklist for your child's immunizations

Make an appointment

The first immunization may start at the age of 2 months, but your health care provider will give you a schedule for your child.

Bring your child's immunization record

You will need your baby's immunization record, which you'll get at the first appointment.

Make the next appointment

Set a date for your baby's next immunization before you leave your health care provider's office or public health office (CLSC in Quebec).

Mark the next date on your calendar

Do this as soon as you get home so you won't forget.

Keep your child's immunization record for the next visit

Put it in a safe place so you can find it when you need it.

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