Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting children, as well as adults, from a number of serious diseases. Immunisation uses the body’s natural defense mechanism – the immune response – to build resistance to these infections.
Twelve diseases can be prevented by routine childhood immunisation: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), poliomyelitis (polio), measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), hepatitis B, meningococcal C, pneumococcal pneumonia and varicella (chickenpox). All of these diseases can cause serious illness and sometimes death.
Protection from disease
Immunisation gives a good level of protection against disease, but unfortunately there can be no guarantee of 100% protection. A small number of people will not develop protection even though they have been immunised. A small number of people may only develop partial protection, but if they do catch the disease they have been immunised against, it is less severe.
Reasons to immunise
There are three reasons for immunising Australian children:
- Immunisation is a highly effective way of giving protection against disease. After immunisation, your child is far less likely to catch a disease if there are outbreaks in the community.
- If enough people in the community are immunised, an infection can no longer be spread from person to person and the disease dies out altogether. This is how smallpox was eliminated from the world, and how polio has been eliminated from many countries.
- Despite excellent hospital care, significant illness and death do still occur from diseases which can be prevented by immunisation.
Common side effects of immunisation
Common side effects of immunisation are redness and soreness at the site of injection, and low-grade fever. These reactions can be treated by giving your child paracetamol and by keeping your child cool with light clothing and plenty to drink.
Serious side effects are extremely rare, and usually happen very soon after immunisation. This is why those being immunised are asked wait at least 15 minutes after immunisation. If worrying or persistent reactions develop later, medical help should be obtained.
Having a serious side effect after an immunisation is extremely rare: the risk of developing a dangerous or even deadly disease is far greater. These two issues have to be weighed up when deciding whether to go ahead and have yourself or your child immunised.
Safety of immunisation
Most children can have the full range of immunisations with safety. A very small number of children should not have immunisations, or should delay having immunisations, because they have certain medical conditions. This should be discussed with your family doctor or your paediatrician.