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Vaccines

Polio

Polio is caused by a virus which is found in the stool and saliva of infected individuals and is easily spread through hands and objects. Polio can cause paralysis, meningitis, lifelong disability and sometimes death. Polio is now a rare disease because of widespread immunisation but it still occurs in outbreaks in some parts of the world. For this reason it is important to vaccinate against polio so that it may ultimately be eradicated. In Malta, Polio vaccination in obligatory by law.

 

Polio Vaccine

Polio vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines in one injection as part of the National Immunisation Schedule. First dose may be given from 6 weeks of age, followed by another two doses spaced 4 weeks apart. A booster dose is given at 18 months of age, followed by another booster dose at 14 - 16 years to complete a 5-dose course offering long-term protection. Polio vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

 


Diphtheria
 
Diphtheria is caused by a bacteria which is spread by coughing. The disease affects the throat and airways of an infected person. Nowadays, diphtheria has become a very rare disease due to widespread immunisation but it is still seen in some parts of the world. It can lead to very serious complications including multiple organ failure and muscle paralysis. In Malta, vaccination against diphtheria is obligatory by law.
 

Diphtheria Vaccine

Diphtheria vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines in one injection. It is a killed vaccine and may be given from 6 weeks of age. The course consists of 3 doses, given 4 weeks apart. A booster is currently given at 18 months and again at 14 - 16 years. Diphtheria vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

 


Tetanus
 
Tetanus is caused by a bacteria which is found in soil and animal manure. The disease is known as “lockjaw” and can occur if the tetanus bacteria enters a deep wound or open cut in the skin. It starts with severe spasms of the jaw muscles but later spreads to the rest of the body and can cause death. In Malta, vaccination against tetanus is obligatory by law.
 

Tetanus Vaccine

Tetanus vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines in one injection. It contains the toxin of the bacteria and the course may be started at 6 weeks of age. The primary course consists of 3 doses given 4 weeks apart. A booster dose is given at 18 months and again at 14 - 16 years in order to offer lifelong protection. Tetanus vaccine is also given to workers in certain high-risk occupations. Tetanus vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

 

Pertussis

Pertussis is also known as “whooping cough”. It is caused by a bacteria which is spread by coughing. The disease causes severe bouts of coughing and can lead to pneumonia, chronic lung problems, seizures, brain damage, and sometimes death. The complications are more common in infants and young children.

 

Pertussis Vaccine

The pertussis vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines in one injection. It may be given from 6 weeks of age and the course consists of 3 doses given 4 weeks apart. A booster dose is given at 18 months. Pertussis vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

 

Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)

Hib is a bacteria which is spread by droplet infection through coughing or sneezing. Many people harbour this bacteria in their throat but are not affected by it. However, they can still transmit the illness to infants and children. Hib can cause meningitis that may lead to hearing loss, brain damage and death, pneumonia, septicaemia, sudden and complete obstruction of the airways leading to death (epiglottitis) and severe middle ear infections.

Hib Vaccine

The Hib vaccine is given in combination with other vaccines in one injection. It may be started at 6 weeks of age and the course consists of 3 doses given 4 weeks apart. A booster dose is given at 18 months. Hib vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

 


Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is caused by a virus which is spread through contact with infected blood or other body fluids. A mother who has the hepatitis B virus can pass it on to her baby during pregnancy and childbirth. The hepatitis B virus affects the liver, leading to liver failure and death. Sometimes, people infected with the virus show no symptoms of disease, but they are still at risk of developing serious liver problems and liver cancer.

Hepatitis B Vaccine

 

The vaccine contains the inactivated form of the hepatitis B virus which is grown artificially on yeast cells. On the National Immunisation Schedule it is started at 12 months, with a second dose 1 month later and a third dose given 6 months from the first dose.
Some combination vaccines given to infants also contain the Hepatitis B antigen (6 in 1 vaccine). In this case the course would start at 6 weeks of age and consist of 3 doses given one month apart with a booster dose at 18 months.
The Hepatitis B vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

 

 

Measles
 
Measles is caused by a virus and is spread by sneezing and coughing. It is very infectious and unprotected persons are very likely to become ill if exposed to the illness. Measles starts with symptoms of a cold, which then progresses to a high fever, cough, watery eyes and a red rash on the face and body. Measles infection can lead to severe complications and death through pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and a rare disabling brain illness that can occur even after recovery from the measles infection.
 

Measles Vaccine

The measles vaccine is found in combination with the mumps and rubella vaccines. The vaccine is known as the MMR vaccine. Two doses are given, the first at 13 months and a booster when the child is over 3 years old. If the vaccine is given to a previously unvaccinated adult, the schedule is 2 doses, at least 8 weeks apart. Pregnancy should be avoided for at least 4 weeks following the last dose. The vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.
 
 

Mumps

 

Mumps is caused by a virus and is spread by sneezing and coughing. It causes fever, headaches and a painful swelling of the parotid glands which are found just below the ears. Mumps can lead to serious complications including hearing loss, meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain), cardiomyopathy (inflammation of the heart muscle), kidney failure, joint inflammation, and inflammation of the testes or ovaries that can lead to infertility.

 

 

Mumps Vaccine

The mumps vaccine is found in combination with the measles and rubella vaccines. The vaccine is known as the MMR vaccine. Two doses are given, the first at 13 months and a booster when the child is over 3 years old. If the vaccine is given to a previously unvaccinated adult, the schedule is 2 doses, at least 8 weeks apart. Pregnancy should be avoided for at least 4 weeks following the last dose. The vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

 

Rubella
 
Rubella is caused by a virus and is commonly known as “German Measles”. It is spread by sneezing and coughing and causes a rash, sore throat and swollen glands in the neck. Although rubella is a mild disease in children and rarely causes complications, it can be very dangerous in adults and can lead to very serious consequences to the foetus of a pregnant mother. If the mother catches German measles during pregnancy, the child can be born with hearing loss, blindness, brain damage and heart problems.
 

Rubella Vaccine

The rubella vaccine is found in combination with the mumps and measles vaccines. The vaccine is known as the MMR vaccine. Two doses are given, the first at 13 months and a booster when the child is over 3 years old. If the vaccine is given to a previously unvaccinated adult, the schedule is 2 doses, at least 8 weeks apart. Pregnancy should be avoided for at least 4 weeks following the last dose. The vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service as part of the National Immunisation Schedule.

 

Pneumococcal Disease
 
Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacterium which is commonly found in the nose and throat of healthy individuals. This bacterium spreads by sneezing or coughing and can cause serious illness in some, especially infants and young children. Pneumococcal disease can cause meningitis leading to hearing loss, brain damage or death, septicaemia (blood infection), pneumonia (lung infection) and middle ear infections.
 

Pneumococcal Vaccine

There are currently two brands of conjugate pneumococcal vaccine on the market. The vaccine is given to children from 6 weeks of age, with a second dose at 4 months and a booster dose during the second year of life. If the course is started late, children under 1 year of age should still receive 3 doses, at least 4 weeks apart. Children starting the vaccine when they are between 1 and 2 years of age should receive 2 doses, at least 4 weeks apart. Children starting the vaccine between 2 and 5 years of age may receive 1 dose.
 

Varicella (Chicken Pox)
 
Chicken pox is caused by a virus which is highly contagious. It causes widespread itchy blisters all over the body. The illness is spread very easily by sneezing, coughing or contact with the chicken pox blisters. Most cases of chicken pox are mild but blisters may lead to ugly skin scars. Sometimes the illness may lead to complications such as pneumonia (lung infection) and encephalitis (brain infection). If a pregnant mother gets chicken pox, the baby may be born with skin scarring and/or limb deformities.
 

Varicella Vaccine

The chicken pox (Varicella) vaccine is a live vaccine. It is available on its own as a single component vaccine or in combination with measles, mumps and rubella (MMRV). Vaccination may be started in children over the age of one and a 2-dose schedule is recommended at least 8 weeks apart. The varicella vaccine is also recommended in adults and adolescents who have not had chicken-pox before. The same dose schedule applies. Pregnancy should be avoided for at least 1 month following the second dose of vaccine.
 

Rotavirus
 
Rotavirus is a virus that can cause severe diarrhoea and vomiting in infants. This may lead to dehydration and hospitalisation. It is spread from the stool of infected children, from hand to mouth and by touching contaminated surfaces or objects.
 

Rotavirus Vaccine

The rotavirus vaccine is live and is found in the form of drops given by mouth. The course consists of 2 or 3 doses (depending on the brand) given at 6 weeks,  10 weeks and 14 weeks (if applicable) of age.
 

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
 
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection. Most people who have HPV, do not know that they are infected. Some types of HPV can cause genital warts and other types can cause cervical cancer. HPV is spread through sex and genital contact even when the infected partner has no signs or symptoms. Very rarely a woman with genital HPV can pass the virus to her baby during childbirth and this can cause the formation of warts in the baby’s respiratory tract.
 

HPV Vaccine

 
Two vaccine brands are available to protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. One of these vaccines also protects against most genital warts. Both vaccines are recommended for 11 and 12 year-old girls, and for older females who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger. The vaccine has been shown to work better for girls who are given the vaccine when they are young and before becoming sexually active, compared to when it is given to adult females. It is recommended that females get the same vaccine brand for all three doses, whenever possible.

 

It is important to note that the HPV vaccine does not completely protect against all HPV infection and it is not a treatment for HPV. Smear tests should still be carried out even in sexually active vaccinated women.
 

 

The vaccine is given in 3 doses, with the first 2 doses given 1 month apart and the third dose given 5 months after the second dose. This year the European Medicines Authority has licensed both types of HPV brands to be used in a 2-dose schedule for girls aged 9 - 14. It is not yet known whether the vaccine gives lifelong protection.

HPV vaccine is part of the National Immunisation Schedule and is given free of charge to girls born from 2000 onwards on reaching their 12th birthday.

 

Meningitis
 
Meningococcal  disease is a serious bacterial illness and is caused by meningococcus bacteria. Meningitis is an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease also causes blood infections. Anyone can get meningococcal disease. But it is most common in infants less than one year of age and in teenagers. Meningococcal infections can be treated with drugs such as penicillin. Still, about 1 out of every ten people who get the disease dies from it, and many others are affected for life. A number of vaccines are currently available that offer protection against serotypes A, C, W and Y. A vaccine against serotype B, which is the most prevalent strain in Europe and America, is expected to be available commercially by the end of 2014.
 

Meningitis C Vaccine

This vaccine protects only against the Group C meningococcus and offers no protection against the Group B type. The vaccine is given to infants in 3 doses at 2 and 4 months of age with a booster dose at 12 months. Adults and children over 1 year of age only need one injection.
 

Meningitis ACWY Vaccine

This is a conjugate polysaccharide combination vaccine which offers protection against meningococcal serotypes A, C, W and Y. It can be given to children and adults from 1 year onwards and is given as a single dose. The current recommendations are that no booster dose is necessary if given after 1 year of age.
 
 

Seasonal Influenza
Influenza is caused by a virus which tends to change every season. That is the reason why influenza vaccine needs to be taken every year, a few weeks before the expected influenza season. Influenza is a very contagious illness which is spread by sneezing, coughing and by touching infected surfaces and transferring the hands to the eyes, nose and mouth.
 
Although influenza is a self-limiting illness and most people recover within a week, it can cause serious complications in the elderly, the very young and in
people suffering from other chronic illnesses. It must be distinguished from the common cold by the symptoms. Influenza typically presents with high fever, muscle pains, headaches, sore throat, a dry cough, loss of appetite and extreme tiredness. Young children may present with fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

 

Influenza Vaccine
 
Influenza vaccine gives excellent protection against seasonal flu. The vaccine is made from a mixture of strains of influenza viruses that are expected in the coming winter. Each year, the expected virus strains are slightly different so a new vaccine has to be made every year. Vaccination is recommended in October or November and the vaccine can be given to children over 6 months of age.
 
The vaccine is offered free of charge through the National Immunisation Service to the following persons:
 
  • All persons over 55 years of age
  • Persons suffering from diabetes
  • Persons with chronic disease of the lungs, liver, kidneys
  • Persons who are on long-term systemic steroid medication
  • Persons who are having chemotherapy or radiotherapy
  • Persons with HIV/AIDS​
 
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