Immunisation: general information
Q. Vaccines, vaccination and immunisation: what do these terms mean?
You might hear the terms vaccine, vaccination and immunisation:
- A vaccine protects 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. Our articles use ‘immunisation’.
Q. How do immunisations work?
When a person gets a vaccine for a disease, the body produces an immune response to that particular disease.
This means that it produces antibodies that can defend your body against the disease if you or your child come into contact with it – but without any symptoms. And if your child comes into contact with that disease in the future, her immune system will remember the disease and respond quickly by producing more antibodies, which will stop the disease from infecting your child.
Q. Why does my child need immunisation?
Young children’s immune systems are still developing. By immunising your child, you’re boosting his immune system and helping protect him against diseases like whooping cough, which can be life-threatening.
Q. How can I prepare my young child for immunisation?
You might find it helps to prepare your child for immunisation by talking about what’s going to happen in language your child can understand. You could also read a book about immunisation or play a game about going to the doctor with your child.
Q. What should I do if my young child gets upset during or after immunisation?
Many children find immunisation injections upsetting and uncomfortable. It’s normal for children to cry and wriggle.
During an immunisation injection, you could try:
- breastfeeding, if your child is still breastfeeding
- distracting your child with toys
- giving sweet liquids like sucrose syrup immediately before the injection
- reading a favourite book with your child
- giving your child a favourite blanket or soft toy to cuddle.
There are some topical anaesthetics that can numb the area of the injection, but whether they’re OK for your child depends on your child’s age and personal circumstances. You’ll need to ask your immunisation provider.
Changing your child’s position or moving around with your child immediately after immunisation can sometimes distract your child and reduce distress.
Q. Where can I get more information about immunisation?
Your GP, child 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 understand your concerns and answer your questions, and give you the most up-to-date information about immunisation.
You could also ask to be referred to a specialist immunisation clinic to speak with an immunisation expert.
Keeping up with immunisation
Q. What is an immunisation schedule?
An immunisation schedule is the recommended immunisations your child needs at certain ages.
In Australia, children aged 0-4 years follow the National Immunisation Program (NIP) schedule. The NIP helps protect your child from 13 diseases: chickenpox, diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b, hepatitis B, measles, meningococcal C, mumps, pneumococcus, polio, rotavirus (for babies under six months), rubella, tetanus and whooping cough.
The NIP schedule also recommends and funds extra immunisations for teenagers against the following diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B (not in all states and territories), chickenpox and human papillomavirus (HPV). Teenagers need these immunisations because:
- certain diseases are more common in teenagers – for example, HPV
- teenagers sometimes need immunisation boosters to top up their immunity and provide extra protection against some diseases – for example, whooping cough
- teenagers might have missed some immunisations in childhood, so they need to catch up – for example, chickenpox.
Q. 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, which has been tested and declared safe at these ages.
Q. 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 her age.
The number of catch-up immunisations your child needs will vary depending on his age and on how many immunisations he’s already had.
Q. Can my child still go to child care, kindergarten or school if she isn’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, kindergarten or school. If your child isn’t considered fully immunised, you must provide documentation to show that she’s on an approved catch-up schedule, or that your family meets the requirements for exemption from immunisation.
In other Australian states and territories child care centres, kindergartens and schools might have their own policies about immunisation requirements for children and enrolment. They might also ask you to provide immunisation history statements.
Child care, kindergarten and school enrolment immunisation requirements are a great reminder to check that your children have had all their immunisations before they go to school, where diseases spread easily. And when public health authorities have documentation of the immunisation status of all children who attend child care, kindergarten and school, it helps them act appropriately if there is a disease outbreak.
Q. What does my teenage child need to know about immunisations at school?
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.
On the day of immunisation, your child will go to school just like any other day. He’ll go to the immunisation clinic with the other children in his class.
The nurses will ask your child for her name and allergy history, as well as how she’s feeling today. If everything is OK, the nurse will give your child the immunisation. Your child will wait for 15 minutes, just to make sure she has no reaction to the immunisation. After this she’ll go back to class and continue her school day as normal.
Q. What about immunisation for premature babies?
Premature babies generally get the same immunisations at the same chronological 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, he might get his first immunisations while he’s still in hospital. He might also need an extra dose of some vaccines when he’s older.
It’s best to talk with your child’s doctor or paediatrician about your child’s needs.
Q. Do parents need immunisation? Why?
Yes, parents need immunisation, and they need to be up to date with the right immunisations for their age. 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.
Q. What immunisations do parents need?
It’s best to talk with your GP about your immunisation status.
You might need immunisation if you missed some immunisations during childhood and need to catch up. Or you might have been immunised against some diseases in childhood, but your immunity to these diseases has declined. So you need a booster dose.
Some immunisations are recommended for adults because of their job, lifestyle or health circumstances.
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 pregnant women in their third trimester. Influenza immunisation is also recommended. These immunisations protect you during pregnancy and also protect your newborn.
Immunisation side effects
Q. Will my child have side effects after immunisation?
Immunisation can have some side effects.
This is because immunisation involves getting a medicine (the vaccine) either by mouth or by injection. 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.
Q. What are mild or common side effects of immunisation?
Mild, common and normal side effects of immunisation include:
- soreness at the injection site
- feeling generally unwell.
Different vaccines can cause different side effects. For example, after the combined diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough immunisation, around 1 in 10 people have local swelling, redness or pain at the injection site, or fever.
Q. What are serious side effects of immunisation?
A more serious side effect following immunisation is febrile convulsions. This is a rare side effect, but it can happen after some immunisations – for example, the measles, mumps and rubella immunisation (MMR). With MMR immunisation, the fever usually happens 5-10 days after the immunisation.
Febrile convulsions can occur in young children, particularly children aged 14-18 months. They happen in response to a fever, not in response to what caused the fever – for example, a vaccine.
Anaphylaxis is another rare but serious side effect of immunisation. It’s worth noting that the risk of anaphylaxis after immunisation is 1 in 1 million.
Q. What should I do if I think my child is experiencing 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 (if the side effects happen after hours).
It’s a good idea to report the reaction to the vaccine safety service in your state.
Reporting serious side effects
You can report any side effects your child has after immunisation to your local state or territory health authority:
- Australian Capital Territory – phone the ACT Health Department on (02) 6205 2300.
- 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.
- Queensland – phone Queensland Health on (07) 3328 9888.
- South Australia – phone the Immunisation Section at the SA Department of Health on 1300 232 272.
- Tasmania – phone the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) directly on 1800 044 114.
- Victoria – phone Surveillance of Adverse Events Following Vaccination In the Community (SAEFVIC) on (03) 9345 4143.
- Western Australia – phone Western Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) on (08) 9321 1312.
You can report side effects directly to the TGA using the TGA blue card. You can also report adverse events or side effects by phoning NPS Medicinewise on 1300 134 237.
Q. Are vaccines safe?
You can be confident that the vaccines used in your child’s immunisations are safe. But like all medicines, vaccines have side effects.
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 spectrum disorder (ASD).