Who can I talk to about immunisation?
It’s best to talk about immunisation with your GP, child and family health nurse, school nurse, pharmacist or paediatrician. Your child’s health professionals know you and your child. They’ll listen to you, take the time to understand your concerns and answer your questions, and give you the most up-to-date information about immunisation.
Vaccines, vaccination and immunisation: what do these terms mean?
You might hear the terms vaccine, vaccination and immunisation:
- A vaccine helps to protect you from a disease. It’s a medicine.
- Vaccination means actually getting the vaccine, usually 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.
How do immunisations work?
Vaccines prevent infectious diseases by boosting your body’s immune response to those diseases. They do this by ‘tricking’ your immune system into making antibodies that can defend your body against diseases if you come into contact with them.
Some vaccines stop diseases from infecting you altogether, and other vaccines prevent severe disease.
Why do children need immunisation?
Childhood immunisation helps to protect your child from serious infectious diseases. Some of these diseases can make children very sick or even kill them. Immunisation is also good for you and your child because it stops infectious diseases spreading in the community.
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.
What is an immunisation schedule?
An immunisation schedule is the recommended and funded immunisations your child needs at certain ages.
In Australia, children aged 0-4 years follow the National Immunisation Program (NIP) childhood schedule. The NIP helps protect your child from 13 diseases: chickenpox, diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b, hepatitis B , measles meningococcal disease, (strains A,C, W and Y), mumps, pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella , tetanus and whooping cough. The NIP also funds the annual influenza (flu) vaccination for all children in this age group.
The NIP adolescent schedule recommends and funds immunisations for teenagers against the following diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, meningococcal disease (strains A, C, W and Y) and human papillomavirus (HPV).
In addition, the NIP schedule recommends other immunisations for children who are considered at higher risk of getting certain diseases or who have underlying health problems.
COVID-19 immunisation isn’t part of the NIP but is funded and recommended for all children aged 5 years and over. It’s also funded and recommended for children aged 6 months to 5 years with certain underlying medical conditions.
Why is it important to follow the National Immunisation Program (NIP) schedule?
Different immunisations are scheduled at different ages to ensure that your child builds up enough immunity before the risk of getting the disease gets higher. At certain ages, your child’s immune system responds best to the vaccine.
What should I do if my child misses an immunisation on the NIP schedule?
If your child misses one or more immunisations, talk to your GP or immunisation provider as soon as possible.
This health professional can recommend a ‘catch-up’ immunisation schedule to get your child up to date with the recommended immunisations. This will ensure your child has the right amount of immunity for their age.
You can get your child’s immunisation history statement through your Medicare online account at myGov. You can also get it by asking your immunisation provider or calling the Australian Immunisation Register on 1800 653 809.
Can children get infectious diseases if they’re fully immunised?
A fully immunised child might get an infectious disease if:
- The infection comes from a virus or bacteria that doesn’t have a vaccine – for example, scarlet fever.
- The NIP immunisation doesn’t protect against all strains of the virus or bacteria – for example, meningococcal strain B is currently in a different vaccine from meningococcal strain A, C, W and Y.
- The child gets the infection before the immunisation starts to work.
- Immunisation hasn’t worked well – for example, immunisation for chickenpox works only around 90% of the time. But children who get the disease after being immunised tend to get milder symptoms.
Can children be immunised if they’re unwell?
If your child has a minor illness like a cough or cold, it’s safe for them to be immunised. If your child has a fever or is very unwell, it’s best to delay immunisation until they’re better. Your GP or immunisation provider will let you know whether your child is well enough to have the immunisation.
Can children still go to child care, preschool or school if they aren’t immunised?
The rules about immunisation and enrolment vary across Australia.
In New South Wales and Victoria, you must provide proof of your child’s immunisation status before you can enrol your child in child care, preschool or school. If your child isn’t considered fully immunised, you must provide documentation to show that your child is on an approved catch-up schedule, or that your family meets the requirements for exemption from immunisation.
In South Australia and Western Australia, this applies for child care (except occasional care in Western Australia) or preschool, but not for school.
In other Australian states and territories, child care centres, preschools and schools might have their own immunisation requirements. They might also ask you to provide immunisation history statements.
Child care, preschool and school enrolment immunisation requirements are a great reminder to check that your chid has had all their immunisations before they go to school, where diseases spread easily.
The Australian Government has a ‘No jab, no pay’ policy. This means that if a child isn’t fully immunised according to the NIP childhood schedule, parents can’t get the Child Care Subsidy. Also, their Family Tax Benefit Part A payment might be reduced. For more information, go to Australian Government Department of Human Services – What are immunisation requirements.
Teenagers: do they get immunisations?
At school, teenagers get immunisations recommended and funded by the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
Trained nurses run school immunisation clinics on set days to give these recommended immunisations to students at the appropriate age.
If your child misses one of these immunisations at school, they can get it at a school catch-up clinic, their GP, a community health centre or a local government immunisation clinic. They might also be able to get it at their local pharmacy, depending on how old they are and the state or territory they live in.
It’s common for children of all ages to feel nervous or worried about vaccinations or injections. You can prepare your child for vaccination by giving them age-appropriate information and talking about it. Distraction and relaxation can help children and teenagers cope with injections.
Premature babies: how does immunisation work for them?
Premature babies generally get the same immunisations at the same age as full-term babies. Premature babies need the protection of immunisation because they’re more likely to get certain infections.
If your baby was very premature, they might get their first immunisations while they’re still in hospital. They might also need an extra dose of some vaccines when they’re older.
It’s best to talk with your child’s doctor or paediatrician about your child’s needs.
Parents: do they need immunisation?
Parents need to be up to date with their immunisations. Some parents, like those who work in health care, might be in higher-risk groups that need extra immunisations.
If you’re immunised, it gives your child extra protection from infectious diseases.
It’s best to talk with your GP about your immunisation status.
Pregnant women: what immunisations do they need?
If you’re planning to get pregnant, you should check whether you’re immune to measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox and whooping cough.
If you’re already pregnant, it’s a good idea to speak with your GP about your immunisation status. A whooping cough booster is recommended and free for women who are 20-32 weeks pregnant. Influenza vaccination and COVID-19 vaccination for pregnant women are also recommended. These vaccinations protect you during pregnancy and also protect your newborn.
Does immunisation have side effects?
Immunisation can have some side effects.
This is because immunisation involves getting a medicine (the vaccine). Like other medicines, vaccines can have side effects. But not all symptoms that happen after immunisation are caused by the vaccine. They might just happen by chance.
Most immunisation side effects are mild and go away by themselves. Some immunisations have been shown to have more serious side effects, but these are rare.
Side effects can happen straight away or take a few days to show up.
What are some of the side effects of immunisation?
Mild, common and normal side effects of immunisation include:
- soreness or skin discolouration where the vaccine is injected
- fever, vomiting and headaches
- feeling generally unwell.
More serious and rare side effects include:
- febrile seizures – these are a response to fever, not a response to the vaccine itself
- anaphylaxis – the risk of anaphylaxis after immunisation is 2-3 in 1 million
- bowel obstruction in the week after the rotavirus immunisation – this happens to only around 14 people per year in Australia.
What should I do if I think my child has serious side effects from immunisation?
If you think your child is having serious side effects from immunisation, seek medical help by calling 000, contacting your GP or going to your local hospital emergency department.
It’s a good idea to report the reaction to the vaccine safety service in your state or territory.
Reporting serious side effects
You can report immunisation side effects to your local state or territory health authority:
- Australian Capital Territory – phone the ACT Health Department on (02) 5124 9800 or visit the ACT Health website.
- New South Wales – phone 1300 066 055 to speak with your local Public Health Unit.
- Northern Territory – phone the NT Department of Health on (08) 8922 8044 or visit the NT Department of Health website.
- Queensland – phone Queensland Health on 137 468 or visit the Queensland Health website.
- South Australia – phone the Immunisation Section at the SA Department of Health on 1300 232 272 or visit the SA Health website.
- Tasmania – phone the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) directly on 1800 020 653.
- Victoria – phone SAEFVIC (Surveillance of Adverse Events Following Vaccination In the Community) on 1300 882 924 or visit the SAEFVIC website.
- Western Australia – phone Western Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) on (08) 6456 0208 or visit the WAVSS website.
You can also report side effects to the TGA by reporting an adverse event online.
Are vaccines safe?
You can be confident that the vaccines used in your child’s immunisations are safe. The vaccine development process is very thorough.
Just like other medicines, these vaccines must be registered for use in Australia by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). And for this to happen, the TGA must check the vaccine’s safety. The TGA keeps monitoring and testing vaccines even after they have been registered to make sure they’re still safe.
There is no scientific evidence of a link between immunisation and autism.