Immunity is your body’s defence system against infectious diseases. Babies are born with some immunity (to bacteria and viruses that cover their skin, nose, throat and intestines) that will last throughout their lifetime. This is called innate or non-specific immunity.
Your child’s body also needs to learn and remember how to develop his or her own antibodies (proteins produced by the immune system) to fight against specific bacteria and viruses as he or she comes into contact with them. This is called acquired immunity. There are two different ways that your child can acquire immunity.
Vaccines contain a small part of the bacteria or virus that causes a disease. This stimulates your child’s immune system, resulting in the production of antibodies in the same way as an infection, but without causing a full-blown disease. Vaccines are a safe way to ensure your child develops his or her own antibodies to a particular infection. Vaccines are made using:
All of the infections that are in the childhood immunisation programme can develop into serious illnesses and have the potential to cause disability or death. Immunising your child means that he or she is protected from these serious diseases and their potentially devastating effects. Many of the diseases that your child can be immunised against have no cure so vaccination can prevent any unnecessary illness.
If most children are immunised, then the risk of infection in the community is significantly reduced and even unvaccinated children are at much less risk of catching the disease. This is called 'herd immunity'.
Some people argue that there is no longer any need to immunise children. Diseases such as polio, for example, are now almost never seen in the UK. However, these diseases haven't yet disappeared and if your child comes into contact with someone with the disease, either in the UK or abroad, then he or she is likely to catch it. If more people choose not to immunise their children, then the number of children at risk of catching a disease will increase and outbreaks of the disease will occur. In the UK, many diseases are rarely seen because of the high rate of childhood immunisation.
Vaccines given routinely to children in the UK protect against:
The following vaccines are given selectively.
For some immunisations, your baby will need a course of vaccines to build up his or her defences. Booster vaccines are needed to 'top up' immunity for pre-school children and teenagers.
The DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine protects babies against five different diseases.
PCV protects against some strains of pneumococcal infection, which can cause diseases such as pneumonia, blood poisoning (septicaemia) and meningitis.
The MenC vaccine protects against the bacterium that causes a severe form of blood poisoning (septicaemia) and/or meningitis. Your child can have it at the same time as the DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine. It’s given as a separate injection.
The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Stories in the media have raised concerns about a possible link between the MMR vaccine, autism and bowel disease. However, there is a great deal of scientific evidence from around the world that shows no connection between these conditions and the MMR vaccine. There’s also a lot of research to prove the safety and effectiveness of the MMR vaccine.
The BCG vaccine protects against tuberculosis.
Your child will have a skin test, called a Mantoux. If the reaction is positive, it suggests he or she already has immunity and will not need the BCG injection.
Hepatitis B vaccine is usually given only to those children who are most likely to catch the disease, such as those who have a parent with hepatitis B.
Girls aged 12 to 13 are now routinely given the HPV vaccine. It protects against the two main viruses that cause cervical cancer.
The following table shows when to immunise your child against each disease.
|Age||Vaccine||Type of injection||Stage of vaccine course|
|2 months||DTaP/IPV/Hib||5-in-1 injection||First dose|
|3 months||DTaP/IPV/Hib||5-in-1||Second dose|
|Men C||Single||First dose|
|4 months||DTaP/IPV/Hib||5-in-1||Third dose|
|Men C||Single||Second dose|
|12 months||Hib/Men C||Single||Booster|
|13 months||MMR||3-in-1||First dose|
|3 years and 4 months to 5 years||MMR||3-in-1||Booster|
|12 to 13 years (girls)||HPV||Single||Three doses given over six months|
|13 to 18 years||Td/IPV||Single||Booster|
Immunisations or vaccines are given by injection, usually into the muscle in the upper arm or thigh.
If your child is in good health and due for immunisation, you shouldn't delay having a vaccine.
A vaccine won't be given if your child has a fever when the injection is due. The vaccine could worsen the fever. Also your child's current illness could make it difficult to identify any side-effects to the vaccine. Your GP or nurse will usually examine your child and re-arrange the appointment if your child is too unwell to have the injection.
If you have any concerns about a particular vaccine, talk to your GP, practice nurse or health visitor.
Your child won't be given live vaccines, such as MMR and BCG, if he or she:
Speak to your GP if your child has any condition affecting his or her immune system.
Don't delay getting your child immunised if he or she:
Side-effects are the unwanted but mostly mild and temporary effects of a successful immunisation. Side-effects of a vaccine may include:
You can help to lower your child's temperature and relieve any discomfort by:
A severe reaction to a vaccine is very rare. You should seek urgent medical attention if your child:
Health professionals recognise that routine immunisation is the best defence against potentially dangerous diseases and it’s a safe way to ensure protection. All vaccines must be thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective. Once they have been licensed, their safety is continuously monitored and any side-effects that are discovered can be assessed further.
Your child won't be fully protected if he or she hasn't received all the doses of a vaccine.
There are two major reasons for booster doses: to protect your child and to protect the entire population of children.
Having a booster 'tops up' the level of antibodies produced by your child in response to the particular vaccine. If your child hasn't received all the doses, his or her level of protection will be reduced. Pre-school boosters help to keep your child protected during their school years.
Also, having a high level of immunity among the general population (herd immunity) is vital to reduce the risk of spreading disease from person to person. The lower the herd immunity, the greater the risk of a disease outbreak.
If your child has missed an appointment and is late getting a booster dose, make an appointment as soon as possible. The gap advised to leave between having a vaccine and having the booster dose is the ideal amount of time, but the booster will still work if it's given later. You won't have to start the course of vaccines again.
Yes. The vaccines can't cause a full-blown illnesses, which means your baby's immune system can easily cope with them.
Some parents worry about the number of vaccines children receive these days. However, it has been estimated that a baby's immune system could respond to as many as 10,000 vaccines at any one time.
Your child’s immune system is constantly challenged by infections so there is no reason to think that a vaccine will damage his or her immune system.
Yes, having an illness doesn't reduce your child's ability to respond to a vaccine.
Some parents may believe that giving a vaccine to a child who is ill may burden the immune system at a time when the child is already trying to fight off an infection. It's a common misconception that children who are ill will be less likely to respond to a vaccine, or more likely to get side-effects, as their immune system is compromised.
The response to a vaccine is the same in healthy children and those with mild or moderate illness. Your GP or nurse will usually suggest postponing the immunisation if your child is very ill, until your child is fully recovered. This is to ensure that symptoms of your child's current illness are not mistaken as side-effects of the vaccine.
Also, a common side-effect to any vaccine is a temperature. If your child has a high temperature or fever at the time the injection is due, the vaccine is often delayed to avoid making it worse.
The human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine is most effective when it's given before a girl becomes sexually active.
The HPV vaccine protects against two specific types of HPV, which are the most likely to cause cervical cancer. These are HPV types 16 and 18, which cause around seven out of 10 cancers of the cervix. The vaccine doesn't provide protection against any other types of HPV.
The HPV vaccine is given to girls aged 12 and 13. This is because the vaccine is more effective if it's given to girls before they become sexually active. If your child is sexually active before she has the vaccine, she may already have HPV and the vaccine won’t help to clear it up.