Child vaccinations: common questions

Why do we need vaccinations?

Our immune system is a natural defence against disease. The immune system produces substances called antibodies, which fight off infection and prevent disease. In some cases, though, our immune systems need a bit of help. Vaccinations strengthen your child’s immune system to fight off diseases that could cause lasting damage to their health or could kill them.

How do vaccines work?

Vaccines contain a small part of the bacterium or virus that causes a disease, or tiny amounts of chemicals that the bacterium or virus produce. Vaccines work by encouraging the body’s immune system to make antibodies and memory cells.

If your child comes into contact with an infection they’ve been vaccinated against, the memory cells will recognise it and will be ready to protect them.

If diseases like polio and diphtheria have almost disappeared in the UK, why do we need to vaccinate against them?

In the UK, these diseases are prevented by high vaccination rates. Around the world, more than 15 million people a year die from infectious diseases. Over half are children under the age of five.

Vaccinations don’t only protect your child. They also help to protect your family and the whole community, especially those children who, for medical reasons, can’t have the vaccination.

How do we know that vaccines are safe?

Before they can be licensed, all medicines (including vaccines) are thoroughly tested to check their safety and effectiveness. After they have been licensed, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored.

Any rare side effects that are discovered can then be investigated further. All medicines can cause side effects but vaccines are among the safest.

Won’t having an injection upset my baby?

Your baby may cry and be upset for a few minutes but will usually settle after a cuddle.

Will there be any side effects?

Side effects are less common than many people think and are usually mild. Some babies will have redness or swelling in the place where they had the injection, but this will soon go away. Others might feel a bit irritable or unwell or have a slight temperature.

Is it safe to take my baby swimming around the time of a vaccination?

Yes. You can take your baby swimming at any time before and after their vaccinations.

Are vaccinations safe for babies with allergies?

Yes. They are safe for babies with asthma, eczema, hayfever and allergies. If you have any questions, speak to your GP, practice nurse or health visitor.

Are some babies allergic to vaccines?

In rare cases, children can have an allergic reaction soon after a vaccination. This will usually be a rash or itching that affects part or all of their body. The GP or nurse giving the vaccine will know how to treat this.

In even rarer cases, children may have a severe anaphylactic reaction within a few minutes of having the vaccination, leading to breathing difficulties and, in some cases, collapse.

A recent study has shown that only one anaphylactic reaction is reported in about a million vaccinations. The people who give vaccinations are trained to deal with anaphylactic reactions and, as long as they’re treated quickly, children will make a complete recovery.

Is there any reason why my baby shouldn’t have vaccinations?

There are very few reasons why babies can’t have vaccinations. Vaccines should not be given to babies who have had a confirmed allergic reaction to a previous dose of that specific vaccine or to something in the vaccine.

In general, children who are ‘immunosuppressed’ should not be given live vaccines. This includes children who are being treated for a serious condition (like an organ transplant or cancer) or who have a condition that affects their immune system, such as severe primary immunodeficiency. If this applies to your child, always tell your GP, practice nurse or health visitor before a vaccination. They will need to get specialist advice on using live vaccines such as MMR and BCG.

What if my baby is ill on the day of the appointment?

If your baby has a minor illness without a fever, such as a cold, they should have their vaccinations as normal. If your baby is ill with a fever, put off the vaccination until they’re better. It’s a good idea to book a replacement appointment straight away so the vaccination isn’t delayed by more than a week.


NHS Choices

Published Date 2010-07-23

Last Review Date 2009-07-28

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