As humans, we have an immune system: our natural defence system against disease. Our immune systems produce antibodies which we use to fight off infections and also to prevent diseases. However, sometimes children are not able to fight off the disease without help in order to strengthen their immune systems. This is why there are immunisations for some diseases – to help our children fight to survive the disease.

The list below, (taken from – 2012) states when each immunisation should be given. These vaccinations are all free on the NHS. It is important to remember that although there is a minimum age for each vaccination, it is never too late to immunise your child, so your child has missed an immunisation, you should contact your doctors surgery to arrange an appointment.

2 months:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib, a bacterial infection that can cause severe pneumonia or meningitis in young children) given as a 5-in-1 single jab known as DTaP/IPV/Hib
  • Pneumococcal infection

3 months:   

  • 5-in-1, second dose (DTaP/IPV/Hib)
  • Meningitis C

4 months:

  • 5-in-1, third dose (DTaP/IPV/Hib)
  • Pneumococcal infection, second dose
  • Meningitis C, second dose

Between 12 and 13 months:

  • Meningitis C, third dose
  • Hib, fourth dose (Hib/MenC given as a single jab)
  • MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), given as a single jab
  • Pneumococcal infection, third dose

3 years and 4 months, or soon after:

  • MMR second jab
  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio (DtaP/IPV), given as a 4-in-1 pre-school booster

Around 12-13 years:

  • Cervical cancer (HPV) vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer (girls only): three jabs given within six months

Around 13-18 years:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus and polio booster (Td/IPV), given as a single jab

What do I need to do?
In most areas, you will receive an ‘immunisations reminder’ stating your child’s name, which immunisations they are due, when they should have them and who to phone to arrange an appointment. However, if your child reaches the recommended age and you have not received this reminder, it is important for you to phone your doctor to discuss and arrange.

When you attend the appointment, you need to take your child’s ‘Red’ Record book (this was given to you after the birth), your doctor/nurse will fill out the record in the book and explain to you what they are about to do. You will be shown the packaging for the vaccination and asked to sign to say the contents of the vaccine match what your child should be receiving. The doctor/nurse will discuss what to do if there any rare reactions or side effects.  If you have any questions regarding the vaccination you will be able to ask them.

You will be asked to hold your child in a certain way and the vaccines will be given. Your child is likely to cry or get upset but usually they calm down after a cuddle, a feed or maybe a snack.

How do Vaccines work and are they safe?
Vaccines contain a very small part of the virus that causes the disease. Vaccines work because they make the body’s immune system make antibodies which will in turn fight off the disease should your child come into contact with the disease as their body will recognise it.

Vaccines used in this country are safe to be given to your child. Before all medicines/vaccines are licensed they are thoroughly tested to ensure that they are safe and also that they are effective. This testing and monitoring of the vaccines continues even after the license has been given. Some children may have side effects and each of these are examined and assessed in great detail. Research from around the world shows that immunisation is the safest way to protect your child’s health.

What disease is each immunisation for?
DTaP/IPV/Hib Vaccine protects your child against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Haemophilus influenza type b.

    • Diptheria: a contagious bacterial infection that begins with a sore throat and leads to breathing problems, difficulty in swallowing and can cause heart and nervous system damage.  This can be very serious for all ages.
    • Tetanus: A disease which is caused by the bacterial spores often found in soil. They can easily enter the body through cuts. It causes painful muscular contractions, rigidity and spasms, first in the jaw and neck, and then in the chest, back and lower body. In extreme cases, there can be severe breathing difficulties. This disease cannot be passed from person to person. Sometimes this disease is referred to as Lockjaw.
    • Pertussis: Also known as Whooping Cough. It is a disease that causes a severe cough which in turn causes choking and breathing problems.  It can last up to 10 weeks.
    • Polio: This is a virus which attacks your nervous system and can permanently paralyse your muscles. In severe cases it can affect the chest muscles or the brain and could result in death.
    • Hib: This is an infection which is caused by the Haemophilus influenza type b bacteria and can cause several illnesses including group B meningitis, pneumonia and blood poisoning (septicaemia).

The MenC vaccine protects your child against the ‘meningococcal group C’ meningitis and septicaemia.

The MMR vaccine protects your child against measles, mumps and rubella.

  • Measles: Measles is a very infectious disease easily spread by a cough or sneeze. It will cause a high fever, a rash and also cause a child to be generally unwell. Complications can occur in one in 15 children who catch the disease, which can include chest infections, fits, swelling of the brain, brain damage and in severe cases death.
  • Mumps: Mumps can also spread very easily and can cause a fever, headache, very painful and swollen facial glands, neck glands and jaw as well as permanent deafness, viral meningitis and encephalitis.  It lasts up to ten days
  • Rubella: Also known as German measles. This disease can sometimes go unnoticed in children but it causes a rash, swollen glands and a sore throat.  It can be very serious for unborn babies and can damage their sight, hearing, heart and their brain.  Infection within the first trimester causes serious damage to the baby in nine out of ten cases.

The Cervical cancer vaccination (HPV, or human papillomavirus vaccination) protects against: human papillomavirus, which has been shown to cause cervical cancer in women.

Side Effects and allergic reactions
Your child may get minor side effects from their immunisations. Below is a list (taken from of each vaccination and their normal side effects. The health professional administering the vaccination will explain these in detail at your appointment.

DTaP/IPV/Hib: The vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Hib may cause redness and swelling on the site of vaccination, which lasts a few days. Babies may have a mild fever for up to ten days following the jabs. PCV – Redness and inflammation at the injection site affects about one in seven children. Mild symptoms of irritability, raised temperature and digestive disturbance may occur.

MenC: Swelling and redness at the injection site is common. Some toddlers have disturbed sleep and some a light fever within a few days of their jab. Older children may complain of a mild headache.

MMR: Cold symptoms, a fever and swollen salivary glands may be noticed in children any time from a few days to three weeks after their MMR jab. Some may develop a rash or lose their appetite for up to ten days.

Very rarely a child may suffer an allergic reaction to their vaccination. This will happen very soon afterwards.  It may be a rash or itching that affects part or most of the child’s body. The doctor/nurse will know how to treat this and it is not a reason to stop the child from receiving their next immunisation that they are due.

About one in every million immunisations, a child may suffer an anaphylactic shock.  This is very, very rare and will happen within a few minutes of receiving the immunisation.  The child may suddenly have breathing difficulties which may cause the child to collapse.  Again, the doctor/nurse will know how to deal with this situation and the child will recover fully!

Can my child have the vaccine?
• If your child has eczema or asthma, they can still have the vaccinations.
• If your child has a minor illness without a fever, they can still have the vaccinations.
• If your child has a fever – it is best to re-schedule the appointment until your child is well again. This is because, it would be difficult to tell if the fever got worse because of the vaccine
• If your baby has a bleeding disorder or has had a fit that was not linked to a fever – please talk to your doctor/nurse/HV before vaccinating.

The vaccines should NOT be given to babies/children who have had:
• A confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine
• A confirmed anaphylactic reaction to neomycin, streptomycin or polymyxin B (these are antibodies used in vaccines)
• Children who are ‘immunosuppressed’  – either due to a condition or due to undergoing  treatment for a serious condition such as a transplant or cancer.
If any of these apply to your child, you must tell your doctor/nurse/HV.

‘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, cannot be immunised!’ (


by Jenny, mum to William and James

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