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The routine vaccination programme

The routine vaccination programme

In the UK, babies and children are offered a series of vaccinations to protect them against several serious illnesses. As a result of this immunisation programme many of these diseases, such as polio, are now virtually extinct in the UK.

 

How does vaccination work?

Vaccinations work by exposing the body’s immune system to a small amount of an inactive or significantly weakened form of a disease. This enables the immune system to produce antibodies against the disease, resulting in what is known as immunity. The immune system stores these antibodies for a long time, in many cases providing lifelong immunity or protection against a specific disease. If a person later comes into contact with the disease then their immune system is ready to respond and can defend the body, preventing them from becoming unwell with that illness.

Once sufficient numbers of a population are vaccinated against an illness then the illness will no longer be able to spread and outbreaks will be prevented. This is called herd immunity and is extremely important in protecting members of the population who can’t have vaccination, perhaps due to a weakened immune system.

For example, in the case of measles, if around 90% of the people are immune then the whole population will be protected against outbreaks. The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine provides protection against measles but in the 1990s a link between autism and the MMR vaccine was suggested and many parents chose to avoid this vaccine. Robust clinical research since then disproved the link but many children today have not been vaccinated against measles and this has led to outbreaks in the UK in recent years.

 

What about the risks?

Vaccination is extremely safe and health professionals across the world agree that it’s the most effective way to protect against diseases. It doesn’t prevent your child from developing a strong and healthy immune system; it offers protection from a relatively small number of potentially life-threatening diseases. Your child’s own immune system will still have to fight off many other viruses and bacteria.

There are some side effects of vaccination but these are usually mild and short lived, for example a bit of redness or swelling at the injection site or a mild fever. Serious side effects are very rare. 

Some children may be advised not to have certain vaccinations. This could occur if a child is unwell, if the immune system isn’t working properly, of if a child has an allergy to one of the ingredients.  You can discuss this with your health provider if you’re unsure if a vaccination is suitable for your child.

 

The table below outlines the routine vaccinations your child will be offered, starting at around 8 weeks of age.

For more information on the diseases these vaccinations will protect your child against click here

Other vaccinations may be offered to specific populations, information on these additional vaccines can be found here.

 

When Diseases protected against Vaccine given How given
2 months Diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis (whooping cough), Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) DTaP/IPV/Hib Injection in thigh
Pneumococcal (13 serotypes) Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) Injection in thigh
Meningococcal group B Men B Injection in thigh
Rotavirus gastroenteritis Rotavirus (live vaccine) By mouth
3 months Diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis, Hib DTaP/IPV/Hib Injection in thigh
Rotavirus gastroenteritis Rotavirus (live vaccine) By mouth
4 months Diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis, Hib DTaP/IPV/Hib Injection in thigh
Pneumococcal  PCV Injection in thigh
12 months  Hib and Meningitis C Hib/MenC Injection in upper arm or thigh
Pneumococcal  PCV Injection in upper arm or thigh
Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) MMR Injection in upper arm or thigh
Meningococcal group B MenB booster Injection in thigh
2 – 7 years old Seasonal Influenza  Flu vaccination Nasal spray
Preschool vaccinations Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio,  DTaP/IPV Injection in upper arm
Age 3 and 4 months Measles, mumps, rubella MMR Injection in upper arm
Girls aged 12 – 13 years Cervical cancer caused by human papilloma virus (HPV) types 16 and 18 and genital warts caused by types 6 and 11 HPV Injection in upper arm, 2 doses 6 – 24 months apart
14 years  Tetanus, diphtheria, polio Td/IPV Injection in upper arm
Meningococcal groups A, C, W and Y Men ACWY Injection in upper arm

Article By

Dr Emma Scott (MBChB, MRCGP) is a qualified GP and mummy to two young children. She works in a GP practice in Edinburgh and in the out of hours GP service in Livingston and she has experience in both obstetrics & gynaecology and paediatrics.

to read more articles by Dr Emma

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