Expert Advice

Immunisations for babies

Your baby's vaccination schedule & why it's so important.

Most mums choose to have their bubs fully immunised. Here’s the lowdown on what this involves and why it’s a good idea.

Once upon a time, you only needed to consider vaccinations if you stood on a rusty nail or were planning an exotic overseas holiday. But now you have a bub on the way, you’ll be offered a series of regular immunisations to protect your little one against a range of nasty diseases, including whooping cough, measles, rubella, chickenpox and meningococcal disease.

In fact, vaccinations that benefit your baby begin before she is born. In their last trimester, mums-to-be are encouraged to have a whooping cough vaccine so they can pass on their immunity via the placenta. Read on to find out how offering up bub’s plump thigh for an injection or two is actually the kindest jab of all.

When do we start?

A baby’s first immunisation is soon after birth, when she receives a hepatitis B vaccination. The next shots are at six weeks, four months and six months. This is a combined vaccine covering six diseases – diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), hepatitis B and polio – as well as a vaccine against pneumococcal and another for rotavirus, a gastroenteritis bug. These vaccines are available free at your doctor’s surgery or at clinics run by councils and local health authorities.

Following these, your bub will be due a few more before school age – at 12 months, 18 months and four years – to cover measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox (varicella) and meningococcal C. Most states follow the same schedule, but there are some minor differences, depending on the brand of vaccination used.

Why so young?

Experts now recommend your baby has her first vaccination for whooping cough, a bacterial lung infection, at six weeks because this disease can be fatal in the first few months of life. Associate Professor Julie Leask, a social scientist specialising in immunisation from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, says babies have no immunity to the disease so it’s important they’re protected as soon as possible. Until babies have had all of their first three pertussis vaccination shots, they remain vulnerable to catching the disease. “Whatever we can do to get that protection to young babies is very important, so getting vaccines done on time is vital,” Julie says.

What else I can do?

Mums-to-be are also urged to have a booster shot for whooping cough, either before they become pregnant or in the final trimester of their pregnancy. Your partner and anyone else who will be caring for your baby, including grandparents, should also be vaccinated against whooping cough or have booster shots, so they’re less likely to catch the disease themselves and pass it to your child.

A new vaccine offering protection from Meningococcal B, which accounts for most of the meningococcal disease cases in Australia, is now available, so you might like to consider this for your baby, too. However, it is not listed on the government’s national immunisation program, so you will have to pay about $125 for the vaccine.

How do vaccines work?

Your baby is given a small dose of a killed bacteria or a weakened form of the virus that causes a particular disease. The vaccine won’t give her the illness, but it will provoke a response in her immune system so that when she comes into contact with the disease she will have her best chance of protection. Vaccination works by gradually exposing the body to these inactive bugs, allowing your baby’s immune system to develop its own protective antibodies. That way, if she does come across the disease, she can fight it off before she becomes sick.

Is immunisation compulsory?

There’s no law that states you must have your child immunised according to the government’s schedule – it’s your choice. But being up to date with your child’s immunisation schedule is a condition for receiving the Child Care Rebate and, if you’re eligible, the Family Tax Payment Part A and Child Care Benefit. If you have chosen not to vaccinate your child, you will only be eligible for government benefits if you lodge a conscientious objector form with the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register. “There are a number of costs involved in not getting your baby’s vaccinations done on time,” Julie says. “These are financial as well as the costs of not giving bub the best possible chance of protection from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Three good reasons to immunise

  1. It’s your child’s best protection against serious illnesses. While there may be short-term side effects, such as swelling, soreness and numbness at the site of the needle, social scientist Julie Leask says the benefits mostly outweigh the risks. “The benefits vaccines have in averting serious complications from the diseases they prevent still outweigh their risks,” says Julie.

  1. Science is on the side of immunisation – studies that suggested a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism have been thoroughly discredited.

  1. You’re contributing to a healthier community and helping to protect vulnerable members of society, such as the elderly and other children, especially those who are sick and cannot have vaccines.

The National Immunisation Program Schedule

For more information on this government initiative specific to your state or territory, head to www.immunise.health.gov.au.

BIRTH

  • Hepatitis B

2 MONTHS (can be given as early as 6 weeks)

  • Hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae type b, polio

  • Pneumococcal disease

  • Rotavirus

4 MONTHS

  • Hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae type b, polio

  • Pneumococcal disease

  • Rotavirus

6 MONTHS

  • Hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae type b, polio

  • Pneumococcal

  • Rotavirus (depending on what brand of vaccine was used for the first two injections)

12 MONTHS

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b and Meningococcal C

  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)

18 MONTHS

  • Measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox) (MMRV)

4 YEARS

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio

  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) if vaccine was not given at 18 months

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