Immunisation and your child

What is immunisation?

Immunisation is a way of protecting against serious diseases. Once we have been immunised, our bodies are better able to fight these diseases if we come into contact with them.

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When should my baby be immunised?

It is important that your baby has their immunisations at the right age – the first ones are given at two months old. They will be given further doses of these immunisations when they are three months and four months old. Other immunisations are given between 12 and 13 months of age, then from age 3 years 4 months, and finally in their teenage years.

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Why are babies vaccinated so early?

Diseases can be particularly serious in young babies. It is important to make sure babies are protected as early as possible to prevent them from catching these diseases.

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Why does my baby need more than one dose of vaccine?

Most immunisations have to be given more than once to prepare your child’s immunity. For example, three doses of DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine are needed to provide protection in babies. Booster doses are then given later in life to provide longer-term protection.

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If some diseases have disappeared from this country, why do we need to immunise against them?

In the UK, these diseases are kept at bay by high immunisation rates. Around the world, 2 million deaths are avoided each year by immunisation.

As more people travel abroad and come to visit this country, there is a risk that they will bring these diseases into the UK. The diseases may spread to people who haven’t been immunised, so your baby is at greater risk if he or she has not been immunised. Immunisation doesn’t just protect your child; it also helps to protect your family and the whole community, especially those children who, for medical reasons, can’t be immunised.

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My baby was born early. When should premature babies have their first immunisation?

Premature babies may be at greater risk of infection. They should be immunised according to the recommended schedule from two months after birth, regardless of how premature they were.

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Does my baby have to be immunised?

In the UK, parents can decide whether or not to have their children immunised. Vaccination is recommended because it gives your baby protection against serious diseases, most of which can kill. Around the world, many children are now routinely protected with vaccines. Because of this, some of the world’s most serious diseases may soon disappear.

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Are there any reasons why my baby should not be immunised?

There are very few reasons why babies cannot be immunised. The vaccines should not be given to babies who have had:

  • a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine
  • a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to neomycin, streptomycin or polymyxin B (antibiotics that may be added to vaccines in very tiny amounts).

In general, children who are `immunosuppressed’ should not receive live vaccines such as MMR and BCG. Children who are immunosuppressed include those:

  • whose immune system is suppressed because they are undergoing treatment for a serious condition such as a transplant or cancer
  • who have any condition which affects the immune system, such as severe primary immunodeficiency.

If this applies to your child, you must tell the doctor, practice nurse or health visitor before the immunisation. They will need to get specialist advice on using live vaccines, such as MMR and BCG. There are no other reasons why vaccines should definitely not be given.

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Are there other ways to immunise my baby?

There is no other proven, effective way to immunise your child. The Faculty of Homeopathy (external link) - the registered organisation for doctors qualified in homeopathy - follows the Department of Health guidelines and advises parents to have their children immunised with standard vaccines, unless there are medical contraindications.

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Why is the immunisation programme changed from time to time?

Immunisation programmes are regularly reviewed to make sure that all children are offered the best protection against preventable diseases. As new vaccines become available, or research shows that giving existing vaccines at different times improves protection, the programme will be changed.

Recent changes to the UK programme have been:

  • introducing a new Meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine at 2 and 4 months, with a booster at 12 months
  • introducing a new pneumococcal vaccine (PCV) at 2 and 4 months, with a booster at 13 months
  • changing the timing of the MenC immunisations, to include a booster dose at 12 months
  • adding a booster dose of Hib vaccine at 12 months
  • the vaccines given at 12 and 13 months of age (MMR, PCV 13 and Hib/MenC) should be given at the same visit, between 12 and 13 months of age (i.e. within a month after a child’s first birthday).

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Last reviewed on 13 October 2015

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