Baby and You

Sure Shot

Mother and father kissing young daughter on cheeks
Immunisation is essential for your baby’s health. Anne Joshua, Head of Pharmacy Integration, NHS England, explains the immunisation process

When your baby is in the womb, and while he/she is breastfed, antibodies (substances which attack bacteria and viruses) are passed to them by their mother, with the result that new babies have some immunity to infection. However, after a few months this immunity wears off and by the time your baby is a year old he/she will have lost immunity to all the serious diseases of childhood including measles, mumps and rubella.

Immunisation has also had a significant impact on the health of the wider community with some childhood diseases staying at a very low level. However, in recent times a reduction in the number of children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine (which protects children against measles, mumps and rubella) has led to a general rise in cases of measles.

Most immunisations (also known as vaccinations) are given by injection. The immunisation programme for children mainly takes place over the course of five years but is usually given before a child is one year old.

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

In September 2008, a new vaccination programme was launched by the government to protect women against cervical cancer later in life. Evidence suggests that up to 70 per cent of cases of cervical cancer may be avoided with the introduction of this programme. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is routinely offered initially to all 12-13 year old girls (school year 8).

How do vaccines work

Vaccines contain a small dose of the inactive disease that your baby is being immunised against. Because it is inactive, your baby cannot get the disease. Your baby’s body will then begin to make antibodies against that particular disease. This means that antibodies will attack the bacteria, or virus that causes that particular disease, if it gets into the body in the future.


The government is rolling out an annual programme of flu vaccination for all children ages two years to 16 using a new nasal spray flu vaccine. The vaccine is needle free as the dose is squirted in each nostril.

Children who have not previously had an influenza vaccine will receive a second, follow-up dose after an interval of at least 4 weeks. In the autumn/winter of 2017/18 the annual nasal spray flu vaccine will be available for all children aged 2 to 8 years old (on 31 August 2017). Reception year children aged 4 to 5 years will now be offered the nasal spray in school rather than through your GP. As part of a pilot, in some areas of the country all primary school-aged children years 1 to 6 will continue to be offered vaccination in schools.

Flu vaccination by injection will also be available through your GP for babies and toddlers from 6 months to 2 years, if they have certain conditions such as type 1 diabetes, heart and lung disease, to help boost their immune system throughout the winter period. Children aged two to 17 years who are at extra risk from flu will continue to have the annual flu nasal spray.

It is recommended that all pregnant women have the flu vaccination to prevent complications such as bronchitis or pneumonia. For more information, visit:

To check when your child will need immunisation, see the table on the following page and visit for further information. If your baby was born outside the UK, the programme may be adapted depending on individual circumstances and if he/she has already received some part of their immunisation programme before arrival in the UK. Ask your GP for further advice and information.


As with adults, travel vaccinations for children vary depending upon the destination. However for children, travel vaccinations can also vary depending on their age. Some vaccinations, for example the yellow fever vaccination, are not recommended for children younger than nine months old.

Visit your GP or local travel clinic, at least eight weeks before travelling, particularly if you are taking your child to a developing country. You may need a number of doses, in which case the process may take several weeks.

Remember to take a checklist with you so that your GP can see which vaccinations your child has already had, such as the MMR vaccine. Your GP or clinic will then be able to advise you which vaccinations your child needs.

The basics

Immunisations are used to protect children from diseases such as:

• tetanus

• polio

• pneumococcal infections

• diphtheria

• meningitis B

• meningitis C

• measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)

Are there any side effects from a vaccination?

Side effects are usually minor and depend on the vaccine your baby has been given. For example, they may have a swelling around the site of the injection, or a slight redness to the skin. Other side effects may include fever, sickness, diarrhoea, swollen glands and a small lump where the injection was given which may last for a few weeks.

Visit your GP or local travel clinic, at least eight weeks before travelling, particularly if you are taking your child to a developing country. You may need a number of doses, in which case the process may take several weeks.

Why it’s important

Protecting your baby against infectious disease is an important responsibility for all parents and immunisation is necessary to protect children from potentially dangerous diseases. All the diseases that babies and children are immunised against have the potential to cause serious disabilities, and some diseases can even be fatal.


Some babies and children may need additional vaccinations depending on individual circumstances related to their likelihood of catching the disease and/or the serious consequences if they were to contract the infection. These vaccinations include TB, chickenpox and hepatitis B. Your GP will advise you as to whether you may need to consider additional vaccination.

• For more advice and information on immunisation, visit




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