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Frequently Asked Questions about Immunisation

Mother and baby at an immunisation session
Mother and children at an immunisation session

What is immunisation?

Immunisation is designed to protect people against harmful infections, which can cause serious complications, including death. Immunisation uses the body’s natural defence mechanism - the immune response - to build resistance to specific infections. These diseases, which can be prevented by routine childhood immunisation, are included in the National Immunisation Program Schedule.

  • chickenpox (varicella)
  • diphtheria
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • hepatitis A*
  • hepatitis B
  • human papilomavirus
  • measles
  • meningococcal
  • mumps
  • pneumococcal
  • polio (poliomyelitis)
  • rotavirus
  • rubella
  • tetanus
  • whooping cough (pertussis)

* Indigenous children in Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia are protected against hepatitis A.

How does immunisation work?

All forms of immunisation work in the same way. When a person is vaccinated, their body produces an immune response in the same way their body would after exposure to a disease, but without the person suffering any symptoms of the disease. When a person comes in contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will respond fast enough to prevent the person developing the disease.

What is contained in vaccines?

Vaccines contain either:

  • a very small dose of a live, but weakened form of a virus;
  • a very small dose of killed bacteria or virus or small parts of bacteria; or
  • a small dose of a modified toxin produced by bacteria.

Vaccines may also contain either a small amount of preservative or a small amount of an antibiotic to preserve the vaccine. Some vaccines may also contain a small amount of an aluminium salt which helps produce a better immune response.

How long does it take before a vaccine will take effect?

In general, the normal immune response takes approximately two weeks to work. This means protection from an infection will not occur immediately after immunisation. Most immunisations need to be given several times to build long lasting protection. For example, a child who has been given only one or two doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTPa) is only partially protected against diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis) and tetanus, and may become sick if exposed to these diseases.

How long does a vaccine provide protection?

The protective effect of immunisations is not always for a lifetime. Some, like tetanus vaccine, can last up to 30 years, after which, a booster dose may be given. Some immunisations, such as whooping cough (pertussis), give protection for about five years after a full course.

Why do children receive so many vaccines?

A number of immunisations are required in the first few years of a child’s life to protect the child against the most serious infections of childhood. The immune system in young children does not work as well as the immune system in older children and adults, because it is still immature. Therefore more doses of vaccine are needed.

In the first months of life, a baby is protected from most infectious diseases by antibodies from her or his mother, which are transferred to the baby during pregnancy. When these antibodies wear off, the baby is at risk of serious infections and so the first immunisations are given before these antibodies have gone.

Another reason why children get many immunisations is that new vaccines against serious infections continue to be developed. The number of injections is reduced by the use of combination vaccines, where several vaccines are combined into one shot.

Do children have to be immunised?

There are two reasons for immunising every child in Australia:

1. Immunisation is the safest and most effective way of giving protection against the disease. After immunisation, your child is far less likely to catch the disease if there are cases in the community. The benefit of protection against the disease far outweighs the very small risks of immunisation.

2. If enough people in the community are immunised, the infection can no longer be spread from person to person and the disease dies out altogether. This is how smallpox was eliminated from the world, and polio has disappeared from many countries.

What are the side effects of vaccines?

Common side effects of immunisation are redness and soreness at the site of injections and mild fever. While these symptoms may concern you and upset your child at the time, the benefit of immunisation is protection from the disease. Paracetamol can be used to help ease the fever and soreness, but care needs to be taken to follow the dosage instructions. More serious reactions to immunisation are very rare. Other side effects are very rare but if they do occur, a doctor should be consulted immediately.

More information can be found on the Vaccine side effects page on the Department of Health Immunisation website.

This information has been obtained from the above Australian Government Department of Health website and from their publication called Immunisation Myths and Realities: responding to arguments against immunisation (5th edition).

If you have any further questions about immunisation or would like to obtain further information please contact Knox Council’s Health Services on 9298 8000. You should also discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor or you can contact the Department of Health on 1300 882 008.

How do I obtain my immunisation record?

You can obtain your immunisation record by contacting your immunisation provider directly and requesting a copy.

Alternatively, you can contact the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) on 1800 653 809 to obtain a copy.

Prior to 30 September 2016, this register stored immunisation records for children up to 7 years of age but has since been expanded to include records of all individuals living in Australia regardless of age. The AIR, however, does not record vaccinations provided through school vaccination programs prior 30 September 2016.

More information can be found on the Australian Immunisation Register page on the Department of Human Services Website.

How do I get an Immunisation Status Certificate or History Statement for my child's enrolment into early learning services?

An up-to-date Immunisation History Statement from the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) is the most accepted form of as evidence of your child's immunisation. To get a copy of AIR History Statement:

  • You can print a copy of your child’s Immunisation History Statement from your myGov account via Medicare Online
  • Through Medicare Express Plus App
  • Call the AIR on phone 1800 653 809
  • Visit a Medicare or Centrelink office
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