This post is also available in: Svenska
TBE in children can cause brain damage, if you’re unlucky. TBE vaccine or tick vaccine can be given to children from one year of age, and smaller children must be protected against ticks in other ways. In this post you can learn about the vaccine, how to protect babies against TBE and also about TBE vaccine and breastfeeding.
TBE vaccine is approved from one year of age
The TBE vaccines that exist have long been approved from the age of one year. But the Swedish Infectious Disease Control Agency has considered that it has not been necessary to vaccinate preschool children, and especially not children under 3 years of age. It has been based on a (non-scientifically supported) general perception that preschoolers do not get very sick with TBE. Thanks to Åsa Fowler’s study, we now know better. Since 2013, the 3-year limit has been removed from official recommendations in Sweden. But these may still incorrectly be upheld in less up-to-date vaccination agencies and medical centers.
Pros and cons of TBE vaccine
The benefits of the TBE vaccine are that it provides a very good, close to 100% protection against TBE infection in those who follow the vaccination schedule. However, regular booster doses are required, every three or five years depending on age. Several cases of TBE have been seen in older adults (over 50 years of age) who have received one or two doses of vaccine, but have not continued to be vaccinated.
Vaccine against TBE consists of an inactivated, whole TBE virus. Since the virus is inactivated, there is no risk of getting TBE from the vaccine, and therefore no risk in children with compromised immune systems. The side effects seen are fever in 5-6% of those vaccinated; and redness and swelling around the injection site that passes after a few days or two in about half of those vaccinated. No serious side effects are known for the two vaccines available in Sweden (Encepur and FSME-immun). WHO provides in-depth information here.
TBE vaccine in breast-feeding
TBE vaccine is an inactivated vaccine and therefore cannot be transferred into mother’s milk nor can it transmit the TBE disease. There are also no other possible or reported side effects of the TBE vaccine that would make it inappropriate to have the vaccine during breast-feeding. If it’s time to get vaccinated; do it even if you’re breastfeeding.
Danger zone or not?
Most cases of TBE in Sweden are diagnosed in the Stockholm area. But there have been more and more cases in Mälardalen, around Lake Vättern and Vänern and around Bohuslän. Here you can see a map of reported cases in southern Sweden in 2016.
However, I am suspicious. I am not sure that the absence of reported cases is due to the absence of TBE in regions other than Stockholm. One has to suspect TBE to test for it. And if you don’t take tests, then you don’t diagnose and you don’t report. The official recommendations are to vaccinate only children and adults in risk areas, or those who travel a lot to risk areas. I, myself, have been vaccinated, along with my oldest son even though we do not live in a known “danger zone”. It’s a safe vaccine against a debilitating disease. For me, there is no doubt we were getting vaccinated.
Protecting a baby from TBE
Children over one year can be vaccinated. What about children under one? They’re at high risk of getting ticks if they crawl around in the grass.
Is there a TBE vaccine for children under one year?
The answer is that the vaccine is not tested in children under one year of age. We don’t know if it’s effective or safe. Therefore, it is also not approved to be given to such small children. Since the vaccine is inactivated, you’d think that it’ll be OK for babies. However, since there is no evidence behind it, we cannot be sure.
How can you protect babies from TBE?
By protecting them from tick bites. Of course, we should not stop babies from being on the ground, and out in the wild. But perhaps it’s a good idea that the babies crawl around or lie on a blanket or a large sheet on the lawn. I’d suggest choosing a bright sheet so small ticks are visible and can be killed before they can get to the baby.
Are you in an area with a lot of ticks? You might want to check for ticks every time you change your baby’s diaper. If you catch the ticks before it bites, it cannot transmit disease. If you have been bitten, then absolutely remove it as soon as you have seen it. Pull straight out with tweezers. Pinch the tick head and the baby’s skin. A pair of socks pulled up over the trouser legs prevents ticks from crawling in that way.
Maybe my baby and I should stay away from the countryside?
No, if you ask me! Of course the first summer with your baby will be a lovely summer! Anyone who plans the summer with the notion of avoiding as many dangers as possible, will not have a fun time. So do whatever you like this summer, even if it means three months in the Stockholm archipelago’s worst tick nests. Just look out for those ticks among the baby’s cuddly skin folds, and feel free to pull out an old sheet for the baby to crawl around on.