How do vaccines work?
Vaccines teach your immune system how to create antibodies that protect you from diseases. It’s much safer for your immune system to learn this through vaccination than by catching the diseases and treating them. Once your immune system knows how to fight a disease, it can often protect you for many years.
Is it better for my child to get the disease naturally?
No. The only way to get the disease naturally would be through infection with the bacteria or virus that causes the disease. This would be a serious risk to your child’s health and could make them very ill and cause long-term effects. Some diseases, like measles and meningitis, can also be fatal. Natural infection also enables the disease to spread from your child to those around them, increasing the risk of others getting ill. Vaccination allows your child to build up immunity in a safe and controlled way without becoming ill with the disease and passing it to others.
Why are babies vaccinated so early?
Many infectious diseases can be particularly serious in young babies. It is important to make sure babies are protected as early as possible to prevent them catching the diseases.
Why is it important to stick to the schedule for baby and childhood vaccinations?
The NHS vaccination schedule is safe and effective at protecting your baby. It’s based on how your child’s immune system responds to vaccines at various ages, and how likely your baby is to be exposed to a particular disease. This ensures your little one is protected from many potentially serious diseases at exactly the right time.
Why do babies need more than one dose of each vaccine?
Most vaccinations have to be given more than once to prepare your child’s immunity. For example, 3 doses of the 6-in-1 vaccine are needed to provide protection in babies. Booster doses are then given later in life to provide longer-term protection.
Is it safer to receive vaccines separately rather than in a combined vaccine?
Multiple vaccines are given in a single appointment to make sure that your child is protected from a disease as soon as possible and to avoid you having to make multiple appointments. There is no medical benefit to spreading vaccinations out over different appointments. Some vaccines are combined into a single injection to limit the number of injections your child has to receive; for example the 6-in-1 vaccine reduces the number of injections from six to one. The combined vaccines have been shown to be as effective and as safe as separate injections.
Find out more about combination vaccines from the Oxford University Vaccine Knowledge Project.
Some diseases have disappeared from this country, why does my baby still need to be vaccinated against them?
All of the diseases that we vaccinate against exist in the world today. So if your child has not been vaccinated, there is still a risk that they could get the disease and become very sick. We know that decreases in vaccination uptake can result in outbreaks of diseases such as measles. Vaccination is needed to keep our children healthy, prevent outbreaks from occurring and to eventually eradicate these diseases altogether.
Vaccines don’t just protect your child; they also help to protect your family and the whole community, especially those children who, for medical reasons, can’t be vaccinated.
My baby was born early. When should they have their vaccines?
Premature babies have a higher risk of infection. They should get their vaccinations at the recommended scheduled times from 8 weeks after birth, no matter how premature they were.
This may happen while your baby is still in hospital, you can discuss this with your doctor.
Find out more in the UK Health Security Agency Childhood immunisations guide for the parents of premature babies.
Are there any reasons why my baby should not be vaccinated?
There are very few reasons why babies cannot be vaccinated. Vaccines should not be given to babies who have had:
- a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine
- a confirmed anaphylactic reaction to neomycin, streptomycin, or polymyxin B (antibiotics that may be added to vaccines in very tiny amounts)
If your baby’s immune system is ‘suppressed’ (because they are having treatment for a serious condition such as a transplant or cancer) or if you have taken certain medications whilst pregnant which suppressed your immunity, then your baby may not be able to have certain vaccines such as Rotarix for rotavirus. Your doctor or practice nurse should get advice from a specialist.
There are no other medical reasons why these vaccines should definitely not be given.
What is the “red book”?
The Personal Child Health Record is also known as the “red book”. It’s used to record your child’s weight and height, vaccinations they’ve been given and other important health information. You can also add information yourself – it’s a great way of keeping track of your child’s progress. Remember to take it with you for appointments at the clinic, GP or hospital.
An online version – the eRedbook – is now available as an app to download to your phone. The eRedbook app stores information about immunisations, health reviews and screening tests securely so they are always with you. Find out more and download the eRedbook.
Where can I find more information about vaccines?
There are lots of places to find trustworthy information about vaccines online.
- NHS website – why vaccination is safe and important
- NHS “Start for life” website for parents – vaccinations and newborn screening tests
- UK Health Security Agency guide to immunisations for babies up to 13 months
- British Society for Immunology guide to childhood vaccinations
- Vaccine Knowledge Project from the University of Oxford