Who can I talk to about immunisation?

Your GPchild and family health nurse, school 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.

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.

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 with only minor or no 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. This stops the disease from infecting your child.

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.

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 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 a higher risk of getting certain diseases or have underlying health problems.

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 her 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
  • the child gets the infection before the immunisation starts to work
  • the immunisation hasn’t worked well – for example, immunisation for chickenpox works only around 90% of the time. But those who have been immunised and still get the disease tend to get a milder version.

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.

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 anaesthetic creams or gels 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.

Can my child be immunised if he’s unwell?

If your child has a minor illness like a cough or cold, it’s safe for him to be immunised. If your child has a fever or is very unwell, it’s best to delay immunisation until he’s 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, kindergarten 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, 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 immunisation requirements. 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.

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, he can get it at a school catch-up clinic, his GP or a community immunisation clinic.

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, she might get her first immunisations while she’s still in hospital. She might also need an extra dose of some vaccines when she’s older.

It’s best to talk with your child’s doctor or paediatrician about your child’s needs.

Parents: do they need immunisation?

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.

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 immunisation is also recommended. These immunisations 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 at the injection site
  • fever, vomiting and headaches
  • feeling generally unwell.

More serious and rare side effects in young children include:

  • febrile convulsions – these are a response to fever, not a response to the vaccine itself
  • anaphylaxis – the risk of anaphylaxis after immunisation is 1 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 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.

It’s a good idea to report the reaction to the vaccine safety service in your state.

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) 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 Adverse Events Following Immunisation – Clinical Assessment Network (AEFI-CAN) on 1300 882 924.
  • Western Australia – phone Western Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance (WAVSS) on (08) 9321 1312.

You can also report side effects to:

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).