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Immunisation - frequently asked questions

How old should my baby be before they can be immunised?

The minimum age for your baby's first vaccination is strictly six weeks old (42 days).


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Can my child be immunised if they have a runny nose?

Yes, a child who has a runny nose, but is not ill can be immunised, as can a child who is on antibiotics and recovering from an illness. If a child is sick with a high temperature (more than 38ºC) then immunisation should be postponed until the child is recovering.


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What do I need to bring to an immunisation session?

Parents are asked to bring their child’s health record book so that vaccinations given may be recorded. Please also bring your Medicare card.


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My child is in year eight and missed out on their year seven vaccinations last year – what can I do?

If your child has missed a vaccination at school and is still eligible, please feel free to attend one of our free immunisation sessions or visit your local doctor.


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Is Hib and Hep B the same thing?

No. Hib disease (Haemophilus Influenzae Type B) is a bacteria which lives normally in a person’s upper respiratory tract. Hib disease may cause meningitis, epiglottis, septic arthritis, cellulitis or pneumonia. Hep B (Hepatitis B) is caused by a virus that affects the liver. It is important that people are vaccinated against both diseases.


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What strains of meningococcal disease are covered in the vaccine?

Meningococcal C is the only strain covered by the vaccination. There are other strains of meningococcal infection caused by the A, B, W and Y strains that are not covered by this vaccine. At this time, there has been no effective vaccine developed for meningococcal B disease in Australia. It is important to remain alert for symptoms of meningococcal disease.


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What if I am unable to attend a council immunisation clinic?

If you are unable to attend one of our immunisation clinics, you may contact our immunisation team on (02) 6022 9300 or 1800 655 360 to discuss alternative arrangements.


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What if I choose not to immunise my child?

If your child has a medical contraindication or you refuse immunisation on non-medical grounds, please contact your doctor or our immunisation team on (02) 6022 9300.


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 My child has allergies to certain foods – can they still be immunised?

Yes. Children with allergies, asthma, eczema and hayfever can have all the recommended immunisations unless they have a specific, severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis, to the vaccine or a component of the vaccine being offered. Vaccinators are trained to ask questions about any allergies that may exclude your child from being vaccinated. Scientific research has identified that immunisation with some vaccines can decrease a baby's risk of developing allergies and eczema when they are older.


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Will my child’s vaccinations be recorded on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register?

Yes. We will forward details of your child’s vaccinations to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register. The Australian Childhood Immunisation Register is a national register responsible for recording vaccinations given to children under seven years of age.


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Will Centrelink receive confirmation that my child has been immunised?

Yes. The Family Assistance Office will check whether a child is assessed by the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register as being fully immunised at the end of the financial year when a family’s payments are reconciled and the Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement is provided.


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How can I access travel vaccines?

Travel vaccines can be accessed by making an appointment with your doctor. We do not provide travel vaccinations.


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How often are council immunisation clinics held?

Council immunisation clinics are held regularly throughout the year. Timetables are available online.


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Do I need to make a booking to have my child immunised?

No bookings are required, however, you will need to wait 15 minutes after the vaccination has been given to ensure your child does not experience any serious reaction.


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What is immunisation?

Immunisation protects people against harmful infections before they come into contact with them in the community. Immunisation uses the body’s natural defence mechanism - the immune response - to build resistance to specific infections. Immunisation helps people stay healthy by preventing serious infections.


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What is the difference between vaccination and immunisation?

Vaccination means having a vaccine - that is actually getting the injection. Immunisation means both receiving a vaccine and becoming immune to a disease, as a result of being vaccinated.


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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 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.


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What is 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.


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What childhood vaccines contain thiomersal?

Thiomersal is a compound used in small amounts to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination of vaccines. Thiomersal is partly composed of mercury in the form of ethylmercury. Mercury causes a toxic effect after it reaches a certain level in the body. Whether or not it reaches a toxic level depends on the amount of mercury consumed and the person’s body weight. As a result of these concerns, in particular for newborn babies and very young children, thiomersal was removed or reduced from vaccines. Currently, all vaccines on the National Immunisation Program for children under five years of age are now either thiomersal free or only have trace amounts of thiomersal.


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How long do immunisations take to work?

In general, the normal immune response takes approximately two weeks to work. This means protection from an infection will not occur immediately after immunisation.


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How long do immunisations last?

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 and whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine is only partially protected against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis), and may become sick if exposed to these diseases. However, some vaccines give protection after only one dose.


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Is everyone protected from disease by immunisation?

Even when all the doses of a vaccine have been given, not everyone is protected against the disease. Measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, polio and Hib vaccines protect more than 95 per cent of children who have completed the course. One dose of meningococcal C vaccine at 12 months protects more than 90 per cent of children. Three doses of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine protects about 85 per cent of children who have been immunised, and will reduce the severity of the disease in the other 15 per cent if they do catch whooping cough. The protection levels provided by vaccines differ. For example, if 100 children are vaccinated with MMR, five to 10 of the fully immunised children might still catch measles, mumps or rubella (although the disease will often be milder in immunised children). However, if you do not immunise 100 children with MMR vaccine, and the children are exposed to measles, most of them will catch the disease with a high risk of complications like lung infection (pneumonia) or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Booster doses are needed because immunity decreases over time.


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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 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.


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Why should children be immunised?

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. 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.


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Should parents be immunised?

Parents and other people, including grandparents and carers, who come into contact with young children are commonly carriers of some childhood infections and should be vaccinated against these diseases.


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Are there any reasons to delay immunisation?

There are very few medical reasons to delay immunisation. If a child is sick with a high temperature (more than 38ºC) then immunisation should be postponed until the child is recovering. A child who has a runny nose, but is not ill can be immunised, as can a child who is on antibiotics and obviously recovering from an illness.


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What are the side effects of immunisation?

Many children experience minor side effects following immunisation. Most side effects last a short time and the child recovers without any problems. Common side effects of immunisation are redness, soreness and swelling at the site of an injection, mild fever and being grizzly or unsettled. You should give extra fluids to drink, not overdress the baby if hot and may consider using paracetamol to help ease the fever and soreness. Serious reactions to immunisation are very rare, however, if they do occur consult your doctor immediately. It is important to remember that vaccines are safer than the diseases they prevent.


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What about natural immunity?

Natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity are both natural responses of the body’s immune system. The body’s immune response in both circumstances is the same. In some cases, vaccine induced immunity may diminish with time; natural immunity, acquired by catching the disease is usually life-long. The problem is that the wild or natural disease has a high risk of serious illness and occasionally death. Children or adults can be re-immunised (required with some vaccines but not all) if their immunity falls to a low level. It is important to remember that vaccines are safer than the diseases they prevent.


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Can immunisation overload the immune system?

No. Children and adults come into contact with many antigens (substances that provoke a reaction from the immune system) each day, and the immune system responds to each antigen in specific ways to protect the body. Without a vaccine, a child can only become immune to a disease by being exposed to infection, with the risk of severe illness. If illness occurs after vaccination, it is usually insignificant.


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Why is immunisation still necessary in this day and age?

Many diseases prevented by immunisation are spread directly from person to person, so good food, water and hygiene do not stop infection. Despite excellent hospital care, significant illness, disability and death can still be caused by diseases which can be prevented by immunisation.


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How safe are vaccines?

All vaccines currently available in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. This testing is required by law and is usually done during the vaccine’s development. In addition, the safety of vaccines are monitored once they are in use, by the Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee and other organisations. Before vaccines are made available for use they are rigorously tested in thousands of people in progressively larger clinical trials. These trials are strictly monitored for safety. The approval process can take up to 10 years. As a result of such detailed testing, a number of vaccines that failed in these early tests have never been released.


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Last updated: 28-10-2013

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