How does immunisation work?
Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way to protect children against certain diseases. The serious health risks of these diseases are far greater than the very small risks of immunisation.
Immunisation protects children (and adults) against harmful infections before they come into contact with them in the community.
It uses the body’s natural defence mechanism — the immune system — to build resistance to specific infections. Generally it takes about 2 weeks after vaccination for the immune system to respond fully.
Vaccination is the term used for getting a vaccine — that is, getting the injection or taking an oral vaccine dose. Immunisation refers to the process of both getting the vaccine and becoming immune to the disease after vaccination.
Learn more about the difference between vaccination and immunisation.
Vaccines for babies and young children are funded under the Department of Health's National Immunisation Program.
In Australia, babies and children are immunised against the following diseases:
- Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib)
- hepatitis B
- meningococcal disease
- pneumococcal infection
- polio (poliomyelitis)
- whooping cough (pertussis)
The hepatitis A vaccine is free for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in high-risk areas (Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia).
Children aged 6 months to under 5 years can have the flu vaccine for free each year. It is available in autumn. Children aged 12 to 13 should be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) through their schools.
Most vaccines recommended in the program are given by injection. Some combine several vaccines in the one injection.
The immunisation schedule is available at the Department of Health's website.
Why do children get so many vaccinations?
A number of vaccinations are required in the first few years of a child’s life to protect them against some of the most serious childhood infectious diseases. The immune system in young children does not work as well as the immune system in older children and adults, because it is still immature. Therefore, more doses of the vaccine are needed.
Another reason children get many vaccinations is that new vaccines against serious infections continue to be developed. The number of injections is reduced by the use of combination vaccines, where several vaccines are combined into one injection.
Where can I have my child vaccinated?
Your doctor, immunisation clinics, local councils, community child health nurses and some hospitals can provide vaccinations.
Do vaccination needles hurt?
Although generally quick, getting vaccinations can be painful for your child. The best way you can make it as painless as possible is to hold your child, and soothe and comfort them. Breastfeeding can also help reduce pain. You can use a number of other techniques to reduce the pain your child might experience.
What are the side effects of vaccinations?
Many children get minor side effects such as redness, soreness and swelling where the needle went in, mild fever, and being irritable or unsettled. If your child has any of these side effects, give them extra fluids to drink, don’t overdress them if they feel hot, and consider giving them paracetamol to help ease any fever or soreness. Most side effects are short-lasting and the child recovers without any problems.
For young children about to receive their meningococcal B vaccination, you can give them the recommended dose of paracetamol beforehand. This can help reduce the chance of your child developing a fever. Talk to your doctor or child health nurse before your appointment about how to do this.
Serious reactions to vaccinations are very rare. However, if they do occur, take your child to the doctor immediately.
Australian Immunisation Register
A record of your child’s immunisation history is kept by the Australian Immunisation Register, which is run by Medicare Australia.
It gives you and health professionals many benefits, such as:
- providing an immunisation history statement
- documents to help with eligibility for some family payments
- the option of getting a copy of your child’s immunisation details at any time
- the ability to track immunisation levels in Australia to assist health professionals to monitor disease outbreaks
You can get your child’s immunisation history statement:
- by calling the Australian Immunisation Register on 1800 653 809
- through your Medicare online account on myGov
No jab, no pay
Find out more at the Services Australia.
Resources and support
You can call the National Immunisation Information Line on 1800 671 811 or visit the website.
Call the Australian Immunisation Register on 1800 653 809 or visit the website at Services Australia.
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Last reviewed: May 2021