Childhood Vaccinations - Essential information

You want to do what is best for your child. You know about the importance of car seats, stair gates and other ways to keep them safe. But, did you know that one of the best ways to protect them is to make sure they have all of their vaccinations?

  • Immunizations can save your child’s life: some diseases continue to harm or kill children across the world. Don’t let your child be one of them.
  • Vaccinations are very safe and effective: vaccines are only licensed for children after long and careful development and testing by researchers and doctors. Vaccines will involve some discomfort and may cause pain, redness, or tenderness at the site of injection but this is minimal compared to the pain, discomfort, and trauma of the diseases these vaccines prevent. Fever can be expected after any vaccination, but is more common with the Men B vaccine. Giving paracetamol soon after Men B vaccination – and not waiting for a fever to develop – will reduce the risk of your child having a fever. Serious side effects following vaccination, such as severe allergic reaction, are very rare.
  • Immunization protects others you care about: some babies are too young to be protected by vaccination and others may not be able to receive certain vaccinations due to severe allergies, weakened immune systems from conditions like leukaemia, or other reasons. To help keep them safe, it is important that you and your children are fully immunized. This not only protects your family, but also helps prevent the spread of these diseases to your friends and loved ones.
  • Click here for common myths about vaccines.

The current UK vaccination schedule

2 months:
3 months:
4 months:
12-13 months:
2 years to 10 years:
3 years and 4 months:
12-13 years (boys and girls):
  • HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer and genital warts - two injections given 6-24 months apart
14 years:

Keep up-to-date with your child’s vaccinations using this vaccination planner.

Should your child receive the annual influenza vaccine?

All children between 2 and 11 years of age (year 7) should receive the children's flu vaccine. This is not only to stop them getting unwell with flu, but also to stop them spreading flu to other members of your family. If your child is at school, the school will arrange for them to be vaccinated.

This year, it is especially important that your child receives their flu vaccine. By being vaccinated, your child is less likely to develop a flu-like illness (cough/fever). If your child develops such symptoms this winter, they will be excluded from nursery or school until they have a negative COVID-19 test (through the test and trace system). In addition, if they get flu, they may need treatment in hospital and/or may transmit flu to other family members who may become unwell (children are super-spreaders of flu).

There are other groups of children with long-term health conditions that should have the flu vaccine every year. This includes children with weakened immune systems (including those on steroids or with problems with their spleen), chronic heart or lung problems, diabetes, asthma, chronic kidney or liver disease. It is especially important that these children are vaccinated because they have the greatest risk of becoming very unwell if they get flu. Children aged from 6 months to 2 years who are at risk from complications of flu should be given the inactivated (injected) flu vaccine rather than the intranasal vaccine.

Click here for more information

Common myths about flu and the flu vaccine

'Flu isn't serious, so my child doesn't need a flu vaccine' and 'My children never get ill, so they don't need the vaccine'

It is tempting to think that flu is no worse than a bad cold, but in fact it is a serious disease which can infect anyone. Although most children do not become severely unwell with flu, in children with other medical conditions (heart or lung problems or weakened immune systems), flu can lead to hospitalisation or even death. In addition, children are superspreaders of flu, which means that even if they are mildly affected, they can easily infect other family members, such as grandparents or people with medical conditions who may become extremely unwell.

'My child is outside of the age range for routinely receiving the flu vaccine. Should I arrange for them to have it anyway?'

Although it is recommended that all children between 2 years of age and up to the 1st year of secondary school (year 7) have the flu vaccine, there are a large number of children outside of this age range that should also have it. This is because they have medical conditions that mean that they are at higher risk of getting severe infection if they are infected with flu. This includes children with:

  • Respiratory (lung) diseases, including asthma
  • Heart disease, kidney disease or liver disease
  • Neurological (brain or nerve) conditions including learning disability
  • Diabetes (see a short film of a woman with Type 1 diabetes talking about why she gets the flu vaccine)
  • A severely weakened immune system (immunosuppression), a missing spleen, sickle cell anaemia or coeliac disease
  • Being seriously overweight (BMI of 40 and above)

If your child falls into any of these categories and is not due to have their flu vaccine at school, please book them in to your GP practice to have it given (pharmacies are unable to give the flu vaccine to children).

'The nasal spray that children get is a live vaccine - I'm worried that if my child has it they will infect relatives/grandparents'

There is no evidence that healthy unvaccinated people can catch flu from the nasal flu spray (either from airborne spray droplets in the room where the vaccine is given, or from vaccinated individuals ‘shedding’ the virus).

It is known that vaccinated children shed the virus for a few days after vaccination (through sneezing or coughing). However, the vaccine virus is weakened (it is “cold adapted” which means it dies at 37°C), so cannot infect the lungs and so it is much less able to spread from person to person. The amount of virus that children shed is normally below the levels needed to pass on infection to others. The virus does not survive for long outside the body.

It is therefore not necessary for children to be excluded from school during the period when the vaccine is being given. The only exception is the very small number of children who are extremely immunocompromised (for example, those who have just had a bone marrow transplant).

'Last year my children had the flu vaccine but they got ill anyway, so it doesn't work'

No vaccine is 100% effective, including the flu vaccine. However, the vaccine usually prevents about half of all flu cases. For people who get flu after being vaccinated, the disease is often less severe than it would have been. It is important to remember that the flu vaccine only protects against flu, but there are other illnesses which have flu-like symptoms which you can still catch after getting the flu vaccine. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so you could still catch flu if you are exposed to the virus during this time. Getting vaccinated as early as possible in the season can help to prevent this.

Use this video to explain to your child why they are having the flu vaccine

The MMR vaccine

Unfortunately, as these vaccine preventable infections become less and less common, social media coverage on vaccines increasingly focuses on their side effects and adverse reactions. Although there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the MMR vaccine is associated with an increased risk of autism, misinformation about this has directly resulted in unnecessary parental anxiety and a significant drop in MMR vaccine uptake. Unfortunately, we are now seeing an increasing number of cases of measles in the UK and across Europe. This has resulted in severe illness and even deaths in a number of adults and children. Even if you think your child will be protected by herd immunity (other people being vaccinated around them), this is no longer the case with MMR because far less than the required 95% of the population are being vaccinated. In addition, if your child was to travel to another country (even when they are an adult) or come into contact with someone with measles who is visiting from abroad, they will be completely unprotected and may contract the infection (LINK). Unfortunately, measles is highly infectious and is spread by water droplets, coughed or sneezed by infected individuals.

For more information about the safety of the MMR vaccine and parent stories, click here

Frequently asked questions about vaccines

It’s normal to have questions about any medication that you’re giving to your child and vaccines are no exception. The most common questions that parents ask are:

Why should I have my child vaccinated?

Won’t herd immunity protect them? Herd immunity does not protect against all diseases. The best example of this is tetanus, which is caught from bacteria in the environment, not from other people who have the disease. In addition, for herd immunity to work properly, most people in the population need to be vaccinated. There are low vaccination rates in some parts of the UK and in some communities, as well as in many overseas countries. This means that if your child is not vaccinated, it is quite likely that many of the people they come into contact with will not be vaccinated either. So if one person gets an infectious disease, it can spread quickly through all the unvaccinated people in the group (this happened during the 2013 measles outbreak in Wales).

A guide to immunisations for children upto 5 years of age is available in various languages - click here

Won’t having several vaccines at the same time overload my baby’s immune system?

Parents often worry that a child’s immune system will not be able to cope with several vaccines at once. In fact, even a tiny baby’s immune system can cope easily. Starting from birth, babies come into contact with millions of germs every day. It is estimated that the human body contains enough white blood cells to cope with thousands of vaccines at any one time. If a child was given 11 vaccines at once, it would only use about a thousandth of the immune system. It is not a good idea to delay vaccinations to ‘spread the load’, because it leaves the child unprotected against serious diseases for longer.

How do I know that vaccines are safe?

All vaccines go through a long and thorough process of development and testing before they are licensed for use. Vaccines have to be tested on adults and children separately before they can be used for different age groups; this is because vaccines that work in adults may not work so well in children. No vaccines are tested on children before they have been fully tested on adults. Click here for more information about vaccine safety and side effects.

Click here for more information about common questions, concerns and comments that people have about vaccines


FIVE
reasons to vaccinate your child against flu

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