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The importance of immunisation

02 October, 2014
Importance of immunisation

Immunisation is a simple and effective way to protect your child from serious diseases. By immunising your child, not only do you give them the best start to a healthy future but you help protect the broader community by minimising the spread of disease. Unfortunately, some babies are too young to be vaccinated and others may be ineligible due to allergies, illness or weakened immune systems. By having your own children immunised, you help protect these individuals also.  

When you vaccinate a child against a disease, you teach the immune system by mimicking a natural infection. The body cannot tell that the vaccine virus is weakened, and it engulfs the virus as if it were dangerous. It then creates antibodies to fight the disease, quickly clearing the virus. What remains is a series of cells designed to fight against future infection. Should your child come into contact with the disease for real, their immune system is able to respond effectively, preventing the disease developing or greatly reducing its severity.As medical science advances, it’s possible for people to be protected from an increasing number of diseases. Some diseases which once injured or killed thousands of children have been eliminated entirely. For example, smallpox shots are no longer required as the disease simply doesn’t exist anymore thanks to vaccination. Other diseases are close to being eradicated, with an example being polio. Polio was once considered one of Australia’s most feared diseases, but thanks to vaccination the entire western Pacific region, including Australia, has been declared polio-free since 2000.

Immunisation testing

All vaccines have been rigorously tested and reviewed by scientists, doctors and healthcare professionals. Vaccine development is a long, arduous and complex process that often lasts 10-15 years. Only after continued testing and a series of vaccine trials are children offered a vaccine. All vaccines used in Australia must be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

What diseases can immunisation protect against?

Immunisation protects against a large number of childhood diseases considered dangerous. These include:

Whooping cough (pertussis), measles, German measles (rubella), meningococcal C, pneumococcal disease, chickenpox (varicella), tetanus, mumps, polio, diphtheria, rotavirus and hepatitis.  

Each of these diseases cause serious health problems and can sometimes prove fatal. Thankfully, through high immunisation rates in the community, these diseases can be prevented and eventually stopped. 

When should your child be immunised?

The National Immunisation Program Schedule recommends certain vaccinations at certain times. It is recommended that you do not delay in having your child immunised and that you stick as closely to the recommended guide as possible. Should your child have a fever over 38.5ºC on the day of vaccination, it is suggested you hold off until they are feeling better. If you have any concerns regarding the timing of your child’s vaccinations, consult with your general practitioner.

 

Birth            2 months                       4 months                       6 months           
Hepatitis B Diphtheria Diphtheria Diphtheria
Tetanus Tetanus Tetanus
Pertussis Pertussis Pertussis
Polio Polio Polio
Hib Hib Hib
Hepatitis B Hepatitis B Hepatitis B
Pneumococcal Pneumococcal Pneumococcal
Rotavirus Rotavirus Rotavirus
12 months 18 months 4 years
Measles Measles Diphtheria
Mumps Mumps Tetanus
Rubella Rubella Pertussis
Hib Varicella Polio
Hepatitis B (or at 6 months) Pneumococcal Measles
Meningococcal C Mumps
Rubella

Some children, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children or those deemed at medical risk, may require additional vaccines. 

Once children are in Year 8 and Year 10, they will be offered recommended vaccines via a school-based program.

It is important that you keep a record of your child’s vaccinations, and this can be done by taking your child’s Personal Health Record to appointments. Whilst there, you can also check your own immunisation history. Adults can be immunised against a range of diseases too, and certain vaccines have an expiration date. For example, any adult spending time with a newborn is recommended to check with their GP to see if they are up to date with their whooping cough vaccine.

Are there any side effects?

Like any medication, vaccinations do come with some risk of side effects. Generally, these are mild reactions such as soreness at the injection site or a mild fever. Most effects are short-lived and cause very little discomfort. In fact, a mild fever or slight reaction can be a good thing, as it shows that the vaccine is having an effect on the immune system.

More serious side effects are extremely rare, however they do exist. More often than not, this is caused by an allergic reaction. If you have any concerns about side effects, discuss these with your doctor. Should any reaction out of the ordinary occur, seek medical attention immediately. 

Does immunisation in Australia cost money?

The Immunise Australia Program aims to increase national immunisation rates by funding free vaccination programs. Parents can access free vaccinations via purposely set up vaccination clinics or through other healthcare providers. Should you choose to visit your doctor for a vaccination, bear in mind that a consultation fee may apply.

Schools and vaccination

Many schools and childcare facilities will ask that you provide a record of your child’s immunisation when enrolling. As of January this year, new laws in NSW state that any childcare centre can refuse to enrol a child who fails to provide an up-to-date immunisation record. Should a childcare centre fail to complete checks to ensure a child is vaccinated or exempt, they could face fines of up to $4,000. 

In the event of a disease outbreak, a child may be excluded should they not be vaccinated. This is designed to protect them from carrying the disease into the school grounds, putting other children at risk. 

Family tax

Whether or not your child is immunised can also determine the level of government payments you receive. Some payments such as the Family Tax Benefit A, Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate can only be paid for children who have been immunised or have an approved immunisation exemption.

Five key things to consider about immunisation

  1. Immunisation saves lives
    By immunising your child, you help protect them against potentially fatal illnesses.

  2. Vaccination is safe and effective.
    While vaccines can cause slight discomfort and swelling, immunisation is the safest way to protect against harmful disease. Any discomfort is far less traumatic than any of the diseases immunisation protects against.

  3. Immunisation protects those you love
    By helping reduce the spread of disease, you lower the risk of contact for those too young to be immunised. The young are the most vulnerable, so prevention is key in keeping them safe.

  4. Immunisation can save you money
    Some vaccine-preventable diseases can result in prolonged disabilities. This puts undue financial pressure on families as time is lost at work and medical bills roll in. 

  5. Immunisation gives future generations the chance to live disease free
    Should vaccination be adopted by all, the risk of certain diseases could be removed for future generations. We’ve already seen it with smallpox, and many other diseases are close to being wiped out. The more people who immunise, the safer our future generations will be.

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