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 protects her from that disease. For example, human papillomavirus immunisation helps protects your child against human papillomavirus, which can cause genital warts and some genital cancers.

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 have a serious illness – for example, a weak immune system.

Vaccines, vaccination and immunisation
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. 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.

Immunisations recommended for teenagers

The Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP) recommends and funds childhood immunisation.

The NIP schedule also recommends and funds extra immunisations for teenagers. This is because:

  • certain diseases are more common in teenagers – for example, human papillomavirus
  • teenagers sometimes need immunisation boosters to top up their immunity and give them extra protection against some diseases. Some vaccinations need to be given 2-3 times at different ages to complete the immunisation – for example, whooping cough
  • teenagers might have missed some immunisations in childhood, so they need to catch up – for example, chickenpox.

The NIP recommends and funds immunisations for teenagers against the following diseases:

The diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough immunisation is given in one injection.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation

The NIP recommends and funds three human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisations for boys and girls 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 such as cervical cancer in women and penile cancer in men.

For the HPV immunisation to work, you must have it before you come into contact with the virus. This is why health professionals recommend HPV immunisation 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 top up your immunity against some diseases.

The NIP funds an immunisation booster for teenagers against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. This booster is given as a single injected dose of a three-in-one vaccine.

Catch-up immunisation

There are more 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.

If this is the case with your teenage child, the NIP will fund catch-up immunisations against chickenpox and hepatitis B.

Catch-up immunisation programs vary across Australian states and territories – for example, the hepatitis B catch-up is no longer given in some states.

Other recommended immunisations

Extra immunisations are recommended for teenagers who are at a higher risk of certain diseases and health complications.

Teenagers who might need extra immunisations include:

  • those with certain underlying medical conditions – for example, cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and so on
  • 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, recommended every year for children with underlying medical conditions.

Talk with your GP or immunisation provider if:

  • you think your teenage child might have a bigger risk of getting an infectious disease and might need extra immunisations
  • your child needs an immunisation that isn’t funded under the NIP.

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

Your child can’t get any extra immunisations that aren’t recommended on the NIP at school. She’ll need to see her GP about these ones. If she needs travel immunisation, she can get some of the immunisations from her GP or go to a travel immunisation clinic to get all of them.

There are specialist immunisation clinics in most states and territories. These clinics are for children and teenagers 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 to go to one of these clinics.

Your GP, child and family health nurse, paediatrician or other specialist health professional 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

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 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 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.

Recording teenage immunisations

There is no national register that records all immunisations given to teenagers.

Some Australian states and territories have their own immunisation register to record immunisations given to teenagers when they’re at school. But immunisations that teenagers get from the GP won’t always be recorded in these registries.

You child will get an immunisation record after an immunisation at school. The best way for you to keep track of your child’s immunisations is to take this immunisation record to your GP, who can note it in your child’s file. It’s also important to store your child’s immunisation record at home so that your child can have it when he becomes an adult.

There is a national register for HPV immunisation in Australia. It collects information from school HPV immunisation programs, GPs and other health professionals. The HPV register will send you a reminder if your child is due for an HPV immunisation, as well as a completion statement when your child has had all three HPV immunisations.