This factsheet is for parents who would like information about immunisations for their child in the UK. Advice in other countries may be different.
Immunisation (also called vaccination) is a way of helping to protect your child against specific infectious diseases.
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.
Produced by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Information team, June 2012.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.