Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting children against certain diseases. The serious health risks of these diseases are far greater than the very small risks of immunisation.
How does immunisation work?
Immunisation protects children (and adults) against harmful infections before they come into contact with them in the community.
It uses the body’s natural defence mechanism — the immune system — to build resistance to specific infections. Generally it takes about 2 weeks after vaccination for the immune system to respond fully.
Vaccines for babies and young children are funded under the Department of Health's National Immunisation Program.
In Australia, babies and children are immunised against the following diseases:
- Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib)
- hepatitis B
- meningococcal disease
- pneumococcal infection
- polio (poliomyelitis)
- whooping cough (pertussis)
The hepatitis A vaccine is free for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living in high-risk areas (QLD, NT, WA and SA).
Children aged over 6 months can also have the flu vaccine each year, which is available in autumn. Children aged 12 to 13 should be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) through their schools.
Most vaccines recommended in the program are given by injection. Some combine several vaccines in the one injection.
Learn more about the difference between vaccination and immunisation.
The immunisation schedule is available at the Department of Health's website National Immunisation Program Schedule.
Why do children get so many immunisations?
A number of immunisations are required in the first few years of a child’s life to protect them against some of the most serious childhood infectious diseases. 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 the vaccine are needed.
Another reason 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 injection.
Where you can have your child immunised
Immunisations can be provided by your doctor, immunisation clinics, local councils, community child health nurses and some hospitals.
Do immunisation needles hurt?
Although generally quick, getting immunisations can be painful for your child. The best way you can make it as painless as possible is to hold your child, and soothe and comfort them. Breastfeeding can also help reduce pain. There are a number of other techniques you can use to reduce the pain your child might experience.
What are the side effects of immunisation?
Many children get minor side effects such as redness, soreness and swelling where the needle went in, mild fever, and being irritable or unsettled. If your child has any of these side effects, give them extra fluids to drink, don’t overdress them if they feel hot and consider giving them paracetamol to help ease any fever or soreness. Most side effects are short-lasting and the child recovers without any problems.
For young children about to receive their meningococcal vaccination, you can give them the recommended dose of paracetamol (such as Panadol) beforehand. This can help reduce the chance of your child developing a fever. Talk to your doctor or child health nurse before your appointment about how to do this.
Serious reactions to vaccinations are very rare. However, if they do occur, take your child to the doctor immediately.
Australian Immunisation Register (AIR)
A record of your child’s immunisation history is kept by the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR), which is run by Medicare Australia.
It gives you and health professionals many benefits, such as:
- providing an immunisation history statement
- documents to help with eligibility for some family payments
- the option of getting a copy of your child’s immunisation details at any time
- the ability to track immunisation levels in Australia to assist health professionals to monitor disease outbreaks
To get your child’s records, should you need it as part of your child’s school requirements, you can contact the AIR by phone on 1800 653 809.
No jab, no pay
In order to receive the Family Tax Benefit Part A and Child Care Subsidy, your child needs to be up to date with their immunisation schedule or have a medical exemption if they are unable to be vaccinated.
Find out more at the Department of Human Services.
You can call the National Immunisation Hotline on 1800 671 811 or visit the website.
Call the Australian Immunisation Register on 1800 653 809 or visit their website at Services Australia.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: May 2020