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Immunisation is the safest and most effective way of protecting your child against serious diseases

Your child should have his or her first immunisation when he or she is two months old. Your health visitor, practice nurse or GP will make an appointment with you, or they will send you an appointment inviting you to bring your child for immunisation.

Most surgeries and health centres run special immunisation or baby clinics and there is often a ‘drop in’ facility at other times for parents who can’t get to the clinic during the day. Remember, all childhood immunisations are free.

Common questions about immunisation

What is immunisation and how does it work ?
Immunisation prepares our bodies to fight against diseases in case we come into contact with them in the future. For example, immunisation against polio stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies against polio. If your child ever comes into contact with polio, the polio antibodies will recognise the disease and be ready to fight it. 

Babies are born with some natural immunity which they get from their mother and through breastfeeding. This gradually wears off as the baby’s own immune system starts to develop. Having your child immunised gives extra protection against illnesses which can kill. 

Does immunisation last for ever?
Some immunisations have to be given more than once to build up immunity (protection) or keep the level of antibodies topped up. This ‘top up’ is called a booster.

How are immunisations given and do they hurt?
All immunisations, except polio, are given with a small needle into the upper arm, thigh or buttock. Children may cry and be upset for a few minutes, but they usually settle down after a cuddle. If you don’t want to be in the room when your child has the injection, tell the nurse or doctor beforehand. Some parents find it helpful to take a friend or partner to hold the child during the injection.

Are there any reasons why my child should not be immunised?
There are very few reasons why a child should not be immunised.You must let your health visitor, doctor or nurse know if your child: 

  • has a high fever
  • has had a bad reaction to another immunisation
  • has had, or is having, treatment for cancer
  • has a bleeding disorder – one that some children get is called ITP
  • has had a severe reaction after eating eggs
  • has had convulsions (fits) in the past (with the right advice, children who have had fits in the past can be immunised).

You should also let your health visitor, doctor or nurse know if your child or any other close family member:

  • has any illness which affects the immune system, for example, HIV or AIDS 
  • is taking any medicine which affects the immune system, for example, immunosuppressants (given after organ transplant or for malignant disease) or high-dose steroids.

How do we know that vaccines are safe?
Before any vaccine can be used it has to go through many tests. Research from all over the world shows that vaccines are the safest way of protecting your child’s health. Each vaccine is continually checked after it has been introduced and action is taken if it is needed. If a vaccine is not safe it is not used.

How will my child feel after immunisation?
All children are different. Most will not be affected. Sometimes redness and swelling may develop where the injection was given. But do not worry, it will slowly disappear. A few children may be unwell and irritable and develop a temperature. Very rarely, children can have allergic reactions straight after immunisation. If the child is treated quickly, he or she will recover fully. People giving immunisations are trained to deal with allergic reactions.

How do I know if my child has a fever and what should I do?
If your child feels hot to touch and looks red or flushed, he or she probably has a fever (a temperature over 37.5oC/99.5oF). You can check this with a thermometer. 

Some health visitors, practice nurses and doctors may tell you to give your child a dose of paracetamol when you get home after an immunisation. In many cases this will prevent your child developing a fever. Do not give aspirin to children under 12 years of age.

You don’t hear about most of the diseases we vaccinate against now, so is immunisation really necessary?
These diseases still exist in many parts of the world and there are still cases in this country. If your child is not immunised, he or she is still at risk.

Immunisation doesn’t just protect your child and your family, it protects the whole community, especially those children who can’t be immunised.

By immunising as many people as possible, fewer people will catch diseases. So the diseases will get rarer and rarer. With effective immunisation programmes, some diseases, for example, polio, mumps and measles, will disappear.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.