When babies are born, they have a limited amount of immunity - the ability to fight off diseases. And while breast milk has an abundance of antibodies and can boost the baby's immune system, ultimately, this immunity dwindles, leaving the baby susceptible to many diseases.

To counter this risk, babies and young children can be vaccinated.

Vaccines, which consist of dead or weakened bacteria or viruses, are either injected or taken orally and have a track record of saving hundreds of thousands of lives across the world.

For instance, smallpox, which was responsible for up to 500 million deaths in the 20th century, was declared eradicated from the planet by the World Health Organization in 1979, thanks to vaccination.

Some of the most notable serious illnesses that vaccines can now protect against include whooping cough, German measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis, and mumps.

Some vaccines induce prolonged or even life-long immunity to certain diseases and can be given just once. But others only induce a temporary immunity. These vaccines require repeat injections (called boosters) in order to maintain protection against such diseases.

Although vaccines are safe and effective for the most part, they may trigger some side effects, such as fever or rash. If your baby develops any symptoms related to these side effects, talk to your doctor.

You should also speak with your doctor regarding an immunization schedule for your child. It is recommended that certain vaccines be administered at a specific age or time period.

Immunization records should indicate the date the vaccine was given to your child and what type of vaccine it is and should include the doctor's signature. You are entitled to keep these records at home, and if your family goes on vacation, you may want to take the records with you, as some countries may require proof of vaccination against particular diseases.

Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team