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Immunisation and vaccinations for your child

9-minute read

Key facts

  • ‘Vaccination’ is when your child gets a vaccine and ‘immunisation’ is the process of them becoming immune after getting a vaccination.
  • Immunisation protects you, your child and your community from serious diseases, before you come into contact with them in the community.
  • Many vaccines are free for babies and children under the National Immunisation Program.
  • The Australian Immunisation Register records every vaccine your child has to help you know when your child’s next vaccination is due.
  • The ‘No jab, no pay’ policy means you may not get some government benefits if your child does not have their routine vaccinations.

How does immunisation work?

Immunisation protects against infectious (contagious) disease. Your body’s immune system responds to each vaccine to protect you from a specific disease, and to reduce your chance of becoming sick from the disease in the future. Once your child is vaccinated for a specific disease, they are immune to that disease if they come into contact with someone who has it.

Vaccines use either inactive or weakened viruses to make your body believe it has already been infected with the disease. Your body's immune system makes specific antibodies (special proteins that can fight germs like viruses or bacteria) in response to each vaccine.

Some vaccines work after one dose, while others need more doses to work well. Sometimes your child will need a 'booster' vaccination (a second or third vaccination) to be fully immunised against a disease.

Before vaccines become available in Australia, they need strict medical testing, and must pass the approval processes of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This includes checking every ingredient in the vaccine for safety, quality and effectiveness.

Your baby or child will either be given a vaccine by a doctor or a nurse by an injection (needle) in the arm or leg, or liquid drops into their mouth.

What will my child be vaccinated for?

The National Immunisation Schedule is a vaccination guide that lists which vaccines are recommend for your child, and the age they need to be to have them.

These vaccines are free under the National Immunisation Program for anyone with a Medicare account.

COVID-19 vaccination is only recommended for children aged 6 months to under 5 years with some specific health conditions. Vaccination is recommended for all adults and children aged 5 years or older to protect them against COVID-19. If your baby or child has a severe or complex health condition, ask your doctor when a COVID-19 vaccination is right for them.

Vaccination schedule

Vaccinations available under the National Immunisation Program.

Additional immunisations

Your child may be offered additional vaccinations if they are considered high risk. This includes:

Speak to your GP or immunisation provider if you think your child may be high risk.

Why do children get so many vaccinations?

Your child needs different vaccinations to protect them from many different and serious diseases. Vaccines prevent around 2 to 3 million deaths around the world each year.

Some vaccines need more than one dose at different ages to give your child long-term protection.

Children get more vaccines today than in the past because there are more vaccines available today. This is because our ability to stop diseases has improved as medical research continues to improve.

Video provided by Department of Health and Aged Care

Do vaccination needles hurt my child?

Needles can cause moments of pain and distress for your child, and it’s common for children to cry during or after having a needle.

You can help your baby or child in many ways during and after their vaccination. Try talking gently, singing to them, pressing something cool on the injection site, comforting them or breastfeeding. If your child is in pain, or has a reaction to a vaccine, ask your doctor if they recommend that you give them paracetamol.

Combination vaccines include protection against more than one disease in a single injection. This helps reduce the number of injections your child needs. It’s safe to give babies and children more than one vaccine in a single injection, and safe to have several vaccines at a doctor’s visit.

Video provided by Sharing Knowledge About Immunisation (SKAI)

What are the side effects of vaccinations?

Side effects from vaccines are usually mild and short-lasting. These can include soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, fever, or unsettled and unhappy behaviours.

Sometimes a small lump can appear at the injection site, called a nodule. Nodules aren’t common, but the pea-sized lump can last for weeks, sometimes months. They will usually resolve on their own and shouldn’t cause your child any discomfort, but may be tender or itchy. Speak to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Serious or long-lasting side effects such as a severe allergic reaction are very rare. If you are concerned and want to know what to expect, speak with your doctor about possible side effects of the specific vaccine your child is getting.

You should stay with your child in the waiting room or clinic where your child was vaccinated for at least 15 minutes after getting a vaccine. This is just in case your child needs further treatment. If you are worried, speak with your doctor or nurse.

Most mild side effects should last only for a few days and are part of the body’s natural response to the vaccine. If you child has a high fever, see your doctor straight away, or call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.

Where can I have my child vaccinated?

Babies and young children can get their vaccinations from their local general practitioner (GP), child health clinic and at Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community health services.

Vaccinations offered at birth are usually given in hospital.

To find your nearest child health service, emergency department or after-hours medical service, use the Service Finder tool.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How much do vaccinations cost in Australia?

Most childhood vaccinations are free under the National Immunisation Program (NIP). You can get free vaccinations for your child if they have a Medicare account. Sometimes a doctor, nurse or pharmacist will charge a fee for the vaccination service, but often there is no charge. Ask your service provider about fees when you book a vaccination appointment.

What is the Australian Immunisation Register?

The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) is a national record of all vaccinations given to people in Australia. When your child gets a vaccine, it will be recorded on the AIR. This helps you track your children’s immunisations. The doctor or nurse who gives the vaccination will also record it in your child’s Personal Health Record booklet that you got when your baby was born.

You can check the AIR to know when your child’s next vaccination is due.

You can get your child’s Immunisation History Statement through your myGov account online, or by calling Services Australia on 1800 653 809. You can also ask your doctor.

What is ‘no jab, no pay’?

The 'No jab, no pay' policy means that families with a child who has not had all the routine vaccinations listed on the National Immunisation Program schedule will not get their full Family Tax Benefit (FTB) Part A. If you have an approved reason not to get your child the listed routine vaccinations, or are in an approved catch-up schedule, you may still be able to get the full benefit.

Resources and support

All parents play an important role in keeping their children healthy — this includes vaccination. If you have any questions about immunisations and vaccinations for your baby or child, ask your doctor or child health nurse.

You can also find more information on vaccines and immunisation here:

Read more on the diseases that vaccination can prevent, and the current recommendations for vaccinations:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2023

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