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The importance of child vaccinations

Child vaccination, or immunisation, begins when they are babies and carries on into the teenage school years.

Vaccines introduce a weakened or inactivated form of a virus or bacterium into the body through an injection, or by mouth or nasal spray.

This triggers your body's immune response, causing it to produce antibodies to help fight off the virus or bacterium.

Some vaccines give passive immunity, where the vaccine already contains antibodies.

In future, if the child is exposed to disease they've been vaccinated against, their immune system is prepared to help fight it off.

A vaccine may not completely prevent a disease, but it will reduce its severity.

Immunisations: Why should I have them?

The goal of public health is to prevent disease. It's much easier and more cost-effective to prevent a disease than treat it. Immunisations protect us from serious diseases and also prevent the spread of those diseases. Over the years, immunisations have prevented epidemics of once-common infectious diseases such as measles, mumps and tetanus. And because of immunisations, we've seen the eradication of smallpox, and the near eradication of polio.

Some vaccines need to be given only once; others require updates or boosters to maintain successful immunisation and continued protection against disease.

Which immunisations do my children need?

Immunisations are used to protect children from diseases such as tetanus, polio, pneumococcal infections, diphtheria, meningitis C, and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). Each of these diseases at one time posed a serious health threat to children, taking their lives by the thousands; today most are at their lowest levels in decades, thanks to immunisations.

Immunisations are often given more than once to make sure the protection continues. This is known as a booster immunisation. Children usually need boosters when they have reached pre-school age (3-5 years old), and again before they leave school (between the ages of 13 and 18).

It's important to keep your child's immunisations up to date, but if your child misses a scheduled dose he or she can catch up later.

Preparing for the appointment

You should get an appointment letter telling you when a baby or child is due for routine vaccinations. Check with your GP if this doesn't happen.

The appointment may be at your GP's surgery or a local clinic.

If parents can't take the child to the appointment, the surgery will need to know about the adult who will be taking the child.

You'll need your red records book for baby appointments. Your child may need vaccination records for travel either during childhood or later in life.

Before the injection is given, the nurse or doctor will check your child's general health, and whether they're taking any medicines.

What about immunisation side effects?

Today vaccines are considered quite safe. As with any medication they can have side effects, but in most cases these are usually quite mild. Most common minor reactions to an immunisation are soreness or redness around the injection site and a low temperature.

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