What is vaccination?
A vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect your body from specific diseases before you come into contact with them. It helps your body’s natural defence system, your immune system, to become stronger and resistant to specific diseases and infections. You can have a vaccine by needle or liquid drops into your mouth by a doctor, a nurse, or sometimes a pharmacist.
Before vaccines become available in Australia, they need strict medical testing and must pass the approval processes of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This includes checking every ingredient in the vaccine for safety, quality and effectiveness.
How does vaccination and immunisation work?
Vaccines use either inactive or weakened viruses that make your immune system believe it has already been infected with the disease. When you get a vaccine, your body's immune system makes antibodies in response to the vaccine. This helps it recognise and fight the disease. This lowers your chance of becoming sick if you come into contact with the disease; for example, if someone at your work or school has the disease.
Immunisation is when your body builds up immunity to the disease after vaccination. Once you have built up immunity from the vaccine, your body will recognise the disease and be able to make antibodies quickly to fight it. You may still feel unwell if you get the disease, but usually with less serious symptoms, and you will be able to recover faster.
Some vaccines work after one dose. Other vaccines are effective after more doses. Some vaccines work for life so you don’t need regular ‘booster’ vaccinations. Other vaccines don’t stay effective forever, so you will need a ‘booster’ vaccine dose to stay immune to the disease.
What vaccinations should I have before I get pregnant?
If you are planning to become pregnant, ask your doctor what you need so that you’re up to date with your vaccines such as measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox (varicella), and hepatitis B. Having these vaccinations can help protect both you and your future baby from these diseases.
Your doctor may refer you for a blood test to check your immunity to see if you are protected against these diseases.
What vaccinations are recommended during pregnancy?
The flu (influenza) and whooping cough (pertussis) vaccinations are strongly recommended during pregnancy, and are free under the National Immunisation Program. Pregnant women are also recommended to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
If you have recently had any of these vaccinations before pregnancy, speak with your doctor or midwife. These vaccines can help protect you from serious illness and complications while you’re pregnant. They also provide early protection for your baby.
- You can have the flu vaccine any time during pregnancy as a single dose.
- You can have the whooping cough vaccine between 20 and 32 weeks of pregnancy. You can still be vaccinated after 32 weeks, but if you receive the vaccination within 2 weeks of giving birth, your baby may not be fully protected.
- You can have either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at any time during pregnancy — you’ll need 2 primary (first) doses. If you have already had your primary COVID-19 vaccine course, you should discuss with your healthcare provider whether you need a booster dose during your pregnancy.
Usually, your doctor will not recommend an inactivated vaccine during pregnancy. In situations like high-risk travel or work-related exposure to contagious disease, the benefit of giving a vaccine may be higher than not giving a specific vaccine. You and your doctor will decide together when the benefits of giving a vaccine outweigh the risks.
You can always speak to your doctor about vaccination in pregnancy, especially if you are travelling.
Are there some vaccinations that are not safe during pregnancy?
Some vaccines, like the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), varicella (chickenpox) and yellow fever vaccine are not recommended during pregnancy, because they contain a live virus. The live virus could possibly (but still very unlikely) be a risk to your unborn baby. This is why you should be up to date with these vaccines before you plan on having a baby — try to have these vaccines at least 28 days before you become pregnant.
The HPV (human papillomavirus) is also not recommended during pregnancy. If you have started the course of HPV vaccines and become pregnant, then you should only have more HPV vaccines after your baby is born. Before getting a vaccination, be sure to let your doctor know if you may be pregnant.
Are there side effects to vaccinations?
Side effects from vaccines are usually mild and short-lasting. These can include soreness and swelling at the injection site, mild fever or feeling generally unwell.
Serious or long-lasting side effects are very rare.
Speak with your doctor about common and other possible side effects of the vaccine you are getting before you have it so you know what to expect after you have the vaccine.
If you have any severe side effects, get medical help straight away by calling triple zero (000) and asking for an ambulance.
How much do vaccinations in Australia cost?
The cost of vaccinations in Australia varies. Many vaccines are free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). The NIP includes a range of immunisations given throughout your life, from childhood to adulthood. You can access these if you have Medicare.
While most vaccines are free, you may need to pay a fee to the doctor, nurse or pharmacist who vaccinates you. You can check with your health provider if there are costs you need to pay.
What is the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR)?
The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) is a national register that records all vaccinations given to people in Australia. This helps you to track your and your children’s immunisations.
You can easily apply for an immunisation history statement through your myGov account online or ask your doctor. If you have Medicare, you will automatically be added to the AIR when you have any vaccines.
Resources and support
Vaccination is a personal choice, but an informed choice is always best. If you have questions or need more information about vaccines and pregnancy, you can speak with your doctor directly or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
Other Australian Government online resources include the following:
To find out what vaccines are recommended for you while you’re pregnant, visit SKAI - Sharing Knowledge About Immunisation.
Read more about vaccination in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: August 2023