Why immunisation is important
Immunisation helps to protect your child from serious infectious diseases. Some of these diseases can make people really sick or even kill them.
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 people who might not be able to get immunised because they’re too young or have a serious illness or weak immune system.
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.
Immunisations recommended for teenagers
The Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP) recommends and funds childhood immunisation.
The NIP also recommends and funds extra immunisations for teenagers against the following diseases:
- whooping cough
- human papillomavirus (HPV)
- meningococcal disease (strains A, C, W and Y).
Human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation
The NIP recommends and funds a single human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation for all teenagers aged 12-13 years.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection. The majority of HPV infections go away on their own, but some of them cause diseases like genital warts and also genital cancers like cervical cancer and penile cancer.
For the HPV immunisation to work, you must have it before you come into contact with the virus. This is why health professionals recommend that the best time for HPV immunisation is during the early teenage years, before children are sexually active.
Immunisation boosters for teenagers
The immunity that you get from some immunisations can last a lifetime. With others, immunity can slowly decrease over time. This means that you sometimes need immunisations after childhood to boost your immunity against some diseases.
The NIP recommends and funds 2 immunisation boosters in the teenage years.
At 12-13 years of age
Your child will get a booster against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. This is given as a single injected dose of a 3-in-1 vaccine.
At 14-16 years
Your child will get a booster against the A, C, W and Y strains of meningococcal disease. This is given as a single injected dose.
COVID-19 immunisation isn’t part of the NIP but is funded and recommended for all children aged 5 years and over. An annual influenza (flu) immunisation is also recommended for all ages but isn’t funded for most children. It’s a good idea for your child to talk to their GP about COVID and flu immunisation.
There are more childhood immunisations recommended on the NIP schedule than there used to be. This means that some older children might not be immunised against all the same diseases as younger children. Also, some teenagers might have missed immunisations in childhood.
The NIP funds catch-up immunisations for teenagers, including immunisations against chickenpox and hepatitis B. The NIP also funds catch-up immunisations against HPV for anyone under the age of 26.
Extra immunisations for special circumstances
Extra immunisations are recommended for teenagers who are at higher risk of getting certain diseases or health complications.
Teenagers who might need extra immunisations include:
- teenagers with certain underlying medical conditions – for example, cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders
- teenagers travelling overseas.
Some immunisations for teenagers at higher risk of disease are funded under the NIP. This includes the seasonal influenza immunisation for children with underlying medical conditions.
Talk with your GP or immunisation provider if your child:
- might have a higher risk of getting an infectious disease and might need extra immunisations
- needs an immunisation that isn’t funded under the NIP.
All vaccines used in immunisation have been tested and are safe for your child at the recommended ages.
Where to get immunisations
Teenagers get NIP immunisations at school. Your GP can also give your child immunisations.
Trained nurses run school immunisation clinics on set days to give recommended immunisations to students at the appropriate age.
If you want your child to have these immunisations, you must sign a consent form and send it back to school. Without this form, your child can’t be immunised. You can withdraw your consent at any time before the immunisation.
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 clinic or a local government immunisation clinic. Your child might also be able to get immunisations at a local pharmacy, but this depends on your state or territory and your child’s age.
Your child can’t get any extra immunisations that aren’t recommended on the NIP at school. They’ll need to see their GP or pharmacist about these ones. If they need travel immunisations, they can get some of the immunisations from their GP or go to a travel immunisation clinic to get all of them.
There are specialist immunisation services in most states and territories. These services are for children and teenagers who’ve had adverse reactions to previous immunisations or are in high-risk groups, or for families who are concerned about immunising their children. You usually need a referral from your GP to go to one of these services.
It’s best to talk about immunisation with your GP, school nurse, pharmacist or paediatrician or another specialist health professional. Your child’s health professionals know you and your child. They’ll listen to you, take the time to answer your questions, and give you the most up-to-date information about immunisation.
The Australian Government funds teenage immunisations on the NIP schedule.
You don’t normally pay for an NIP immunisation if your child gets this service at school. But if your child gets the immunisation at a GP, pharmacy or an immunisation clinic, you might have to pay a consultation fee (even though the vaccine itself is free if your child has it during the school year that it’s recommended).
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 from your GP or a travel clinic and buy it from a pharmacy. Some doctors have these vaccines available in their clinics.
The costs of vaccines vary depending on the type of vaccine, the formula and the place you buy it from.
Your child’s immunisation history and the Australian Immunisation Register
Your child’s immunisation history is recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).
Your child’s immunisation history statement is a useful personal record. It’s also proof that your child is up to date with recommended immunisations.
Your child is put onto the AIR automatically once they’re enrolled in Medicare. If your child is younger than 14, you can request your child’s immunisation history statement at any time through your Medicare online account at myGov, by asking your immunisation provider or by calling the AIR on 1800 653 809. For privacy reasons, if your child is older than 14, your child has to request their own statement.
With permission, your GP can also access your child’s immunisation history on the AIR. This can help with planning your child’s immunisation and health care needs.
The AIR will send a reminder letter if your child is overdue for an immunisation.
Vaccines, vaccination and immunisation
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.