Why immunisation is important

Immunisation protects your child from serious illnesses, some of which can be life threatening.

When your child is immunised against a particular disease, it helps protect him from that disease. For example, whooping cough immunisation helps protect your child from whooping cough infection.

Immunisation is also good for you and your child because it stops infectious diseases spreading in the community. Sometimes, immunisation can get rid of these diseases completely, as in the case of smallpox.

This happens through herd immunity.

Herd immunity is when enough people in the community are immunised against a disease, and the spread of the bacteria or virus that causes the disease either slows down or stops completely. We need herd immunity to protect vulnerable children who might not be able to get immunised because they’re too young or they have a serious illness – for example, a weakened immune system.

Vaccines, vaccination and immunisation
You might hear the terms vaccine, vaccination and immunisation:

  • vaccine helps protects you from a disease. It’s a medicine.
  • Vaccination means actually getting the vaccine, either by mouth or through injection.
  • Immunisation means both getting the vaccine and being protected from the disease.

Most people use ‘vaccination’ and ‘immunisation’ to mean the same thing, although they’re not quite the same. This article uses the term ‘immunisation’ throughout.

Some of the diseases we immunise against aren’t as common in Australia as they once were, because of Australia’s long-term immunisation program. But immunisation is still essential to stop these diseases from coming back.

National Immunisation Program (NIP)

The Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP) recommends and funds immunisation against 13 diseases for Australian children aged 0-4 years.

Some vaccinations need to be given 2-4 times at different ages to complete the immunisation. All vaccines have been tested and are safe to give at the recommended ages.

Birth
At this age, your child will get one immunisation, which will help protect her from hepatitis B.

At 6-8 weeks
At this age, your child will get three immunisations:

At 4 months
At this age, your child will get three immunisations, the same as those given at 6-8 weeks:

  • The first immunisation helps to protect your child from hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Haemophilus influenzae type b and polio. It’s given by injection.
  • The second immunisation helps to protect your child from pneumococcal disease. It’s given by injection.
  • The third immunisation helps to protect your child from rotavirus. It’s given as a liquid, which your child must swallow. The immunisation must be given at 10-24 weeks.

At 6 months
At this age, your child will get one immunisation. This helps to protect your child from hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, Haemophilus influenzae type b and polio. It’s given by injection.

At 12 months
At this age, your child will get three immunisations, all given by injection:

  • The first immunisation helps to protect your child from the A, C, W and Y strains of meningococcal disease.
  • The second immunisation helps to protect your child from measlesmumps and rubella.
  • The third immunisation helps to protect your child from pneumococcal disease.

At 18 months
At this age, your child will get three immunisations, all given by injection:

  • The first immunisation helps to protect your child from diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
  • The second immunisation helps to protect your child from measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox.
  • The third immunisation helps to protect your child from Haemophilus influenzae type b.

At 4 years
At this age, your child will get one immunisation. This helps to protect your child from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio. It’s given by injection.

Pregnant women
If you’re pregnant, it’s recommended that you get the seasonal influenza vaccine. This can be done at any time during pregnancy. It’s also recommended that you get immunised against whooping cough in the third trimester of pregnancy. These immunisations help protect both you and your baby.

You can read more about the NIP at Immunise Australia.

Extra immunisations for special circumstances

In addition to the immunisations offered to all children under the NIP, other immunisations are recommended for children who are considered at a higher risk of getting certain diseases and having health problems.

These children include:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
  • children with certain underlying medical conditions, like conditions that affect the immune system, or chronic lung or heart conditions
  • children who were born prematurely
  • children travelling overseas.

Some immunisations for children who have a higher risk of disease are funded under the NIP.

If you think your child might be in a high-risk group and might need extra immunisations, talk with your doctor or immunisation provider. You might also have to do a questionnaire to find out more about any additional immunisation your child needs.

Where to get immunisations

Your child can get the immunisations recommended on the NIP schedule from several places, including:

  • GP clinics
  • community health clinics and Aboriginal community health services
  • local government immunisation clinics (which usually operate only on specific days).

GPs can give other immunisations that aren’t on the NIP schedule, like those needed by children with medical conditions, as well as some travel immunisations. Travel immunisation clinics can also give you advice and all the immunisations your child needs for travel.

To get immunisations that are not funded under the NIP, you’ll need a prescription for the vaccine from your child’s doctor.

There are specialist immunisation clinics in most states and territories. These clinics are for children who’ve had an adverse reaction to a previous immunisation or are in a high-risk group, or for families who are concerned about immunising their children. You usually need a referral from your GP or specialist to go to one of these clinics.

Your GPchild and family health nurse or paediatrician is the best person to talk with about immunisation. Your child’s health professionals know you and your child best. They’ll listen to you, take the time to answer your questions, and give you the most up-to-date information about immunisation.

Immunisation: costs and family payments

The Australian Government funds the immunisations on the NIP schedule.

You don’t normally pay for immunisation if your child gets this service at a community or council health clinic. But if you go to the GP for your child’s immunisation, you might have to pay a consultation fee (even though the vaccine itself is free).

If your child needs extra immunisations that aren’t part of the NIP schedule – for example, the annual influenza vaccine for a healthy child, or travel vaccines – you might need to get a prescription for the vaccine and buy it from a pharmacy. Some doctors might have these vaccines available in their clinics. The costs of vaccines vary depending on the type of vaccine, the formula and where you buy it from.

All immunisations linked to family assistance payments are funded under the NIP.

The Australian Government has a ‘No jab, no pay’ policy. This means that if a child isn’t fully immunised, parents can’t get the Child Care Subsidy. Also, their Family Tax Benefit Part A payment might be reduced. A free national immunisation catch-up program is available for all children. For more information, go to Australian Government Department of Human Services – What are immunisation requirements.

Australian Immunisation Register

The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) is a national register that records all immunisations given to people of all ages.

You don’t have to do anything to put your child onto the AIR. It happens automatically once your child is enrolled in Medicare.

The AIR automatically sends out your child’s immunisation history statement when he’s 18 months and again at 5 years. But you can request a copy of your child’s immunisation history at any time.

Your child’s immunisation history statement is a useful personal record. You can also use it as proof that your child is up to date with recommended immunisations. You might need this proof to enrol your child at child care or to show you’re eligible for some government family benefits.

Note: your child is considered not up to date if he hasn’t had his immunisation within one month of when the immunisation is recommended.

The AIR is also very useful for health care professionals. You can give your GP permission to access your child’s AIR records, which can help with planning what immunisations your child needs and when. Public health professionals also use this information to check how many children aren’t immunised, which is particularly important when there are risks of disease outbreaks.

You can request your child’s immunisation history statement from Medicare. You can also call the AIR on 1800 653 809.