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A: Immunisation protects people against harmful infections before they come into contact with them in the community. Immunisation uses the body's natural defence mechanism, the immune response, to build resistance to specific infections. Immunisation helps people stay healthy by preventing serious infections.

The diseases which can be prevented by routine childhood immunisation are included in the National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule.

A: Vaccination means having a vaccine and actually getting the injection. Immunisation means both receiving a vaccine and becoming immune to a disease, as a result of being vaccinated.

Most people use the terms 'vaccination' and 'immunisation' interchangeably but their meanings are not exactly the same.

A: All forms of immunisation work in the same way. When a person is vaccinated, their body produces an immune response in the same way their body would after exposure to a disease, but without the person suffering symptoms of the disease. When a person comes in contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will respond fast enough to prevent the person from actually developing the disease.

A: Vaccines contain either:

  • a very small dose of a live, but weakened form of a virus;
  • a very small dose of killed bacteria or virus or small parts of bacteria; or
  • a small dose of a modified toxin produced by bacteria.

Vaccines may also contain either a small amount of preservative or a small amount of an antibiotic to preserve the vaccine.
Some vaccines may also contain a small amount of an aluminium salt which helps produce a better immune response.

A: Thiomersal is a compound used in small amounts to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination of vaccines. Thiomersal is partly composed of mercury in the form of ethylmercury. Mercury causes a toxic effect after it reaches a certain level in the body. Whether or not it reaches a toxic level depends on the amount of mercury consumed and the person's body weight. As a result of these concerns, in particular for newborn babies and very young children, thiomersal was removed or reduced from vaccines.

Currently, all vaccines on the National Immunisation Program for children under five years of age are now either thiomersal free or have only trace amounts of thiomersal.

A: In general, the normal immune response takes approximately two weeks to work. This means protection from an infection will not occur immediately after immunisation.

Most immunisations need to be given several times to build long lasting protection. For example, a child who has been given only one or two doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine (DTPa) is only partially protected against diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis) and tetanus, and may become sick if exposed to these diseases. However, some vaccines give protection after only one dose.

A: The protective effect of immunisations is not always for a lifetime. Some can last up to 30 years. Due to frequent changes to the influenza virus, annual influenza vaccination is needed to provide protection against the most recent virus.

A: Even when all the doses of a vaccine have been given, not everyone is protected against the disease.

Measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, polio and Hib vaccines protect more than 95% of children who have completed the course. One dose of meningococcal C vaccine at 12 months protects over 90% of children. Three doses of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine protects about 85% of children who have been immunised, and will reduce the severity of the disease in the other 15% if they do catch whooping cough.

The protection levels provided by vaccines differ. For example, if 100 children are vaccinated with MMR, five to ten of the fully immunised children might still catch measles, mumps or rubella (although the disease will often be milder in immunised children). However, if you do not immunise 100 children with MMR vaccine, and the children are exposed to measles, most of them will catch the disease with a high risk of complications like lung infection (pneumonia) or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).

Booster doses are needed because immunity decreases over time.

A: A number of immunisations are required in the first few years of a child's life to protect the child against the most serious infections of childhood. The immune system in young children does not work as well as the immune system in older children and adults, because it is still immature. Therefore more doses of vaccine are needed.

In the first months of life, a baby is protected from most infectious diseases by antibodies from her or his mother, which are transferred to the baby during pregnancy. When these antibodies wear off, the baby is at risk of serious infections and so the first immunisations are given before these antibodies have gone.

Another reason why children get many immunisations is that new vaccines against serious infections continue to be developed. The number of injections is reduced by the use of combination vaccines, where several vaccines are combined into one shot.

A: Immunisation is the safest and most effective way of giving protection against the disease. After immunisation, your child is far less likely to catch the disease if there are cases in the community. The benefit of protection against the disease far outweighs the very small risks of immunisation. Also, if enough people in the community are immunised, the 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 polio has disappeared from many countries.

A: Parents and other people (including grandparents, carers, etc) who come into contact with young children are commonly carriers of some childhood infections and should be vaccinated against these diseases. For example, several studies of infant pertussis (whooping cough) cases have indicated that family members, and parents in particular, were identified as the source of infection in more than 50% of cases. For more information on immunisations against childhood diseases, visit your local doctor or immunisation provider.

A: There are very few medical reasons to delay immunisation. If a child is sick with a high temperature (over 38??C) then immunisation should be postponed until the child is recovering. A child who has a runny nose, but is not ill can be immunised, as can a child who is on antibiotics and obviously recovering from an illness.

A: Many children experience minor side effects following immunisation. Most side effects last a short time and the child recovers without any problems. Common side-effects of immunisation are redness, soreness and swelling at the site of an injection, mild fever and being unsettled. You should give extra fluids to drink, not overdress the baby if hot and may consider using paracetamol to help ease the fever and soreness.

Serious reactions to immunisation are very rare, however if they do occur, consult your doctor immediately. It is important to remember that vaccines are many times safer than the diseases they prevent.

A: Natural immunity and vaccine-induced immunity are both natural responses of the body's immune system. The body's immune response in both circumstances is the same. In some cases, vaccine-induced immunity may diminish with time; natural immunity, acquired by catching the disease is usually life-long. The problem is that the wild or natural disease has a high risk of serious illness and occasionally death. Children or adults can be re-immunised (required with some vaccines but not all) if their immunity falls to a low level. It is important to remember that vaccines are many times safer than the diseases they prevent.

A: No. Children and adults come into contact with many antigens (substances that provoke a reaction from the immune system) each day, and the immune system responds to each antigen in specific ways to protect the body. Without a vaccine, a child can only become immune to a disease by being exposed to infection, with the risk of severe illness. If illness occurs after vaccination, it is usually insignificant.

A: Many diseases prevented by immunisation are spread directly from person to person, so good food, water and hygiene do not stop infection. Despite excellent hospital care, significant illness, disability and death can still be caused by diseases which can be prevented by immunisation.

A: All vaccines currently available in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This testing is required by law and is usually done over many years during the vaccine???s development. In addition, the safety of vaccines is monitored once they are in use, by the Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee (ADRAC) and other organisations.

Before vaccines are made available for use they are rigorously tested in thousands of people in progressively larger clinical trials. These trials are strictly monitored for safety. The approval process can take up to 10 years. As a result of such detailed testing, a number of vaccines that failed in these early tests have never been released.

A: A number of Australian Government initiatives in the past decade have led to the immunisation success story. They include funding immunisation-related financial incentives for parents and providers and the National Childhood Immunisation Register. The Government also funds state and territory governments to purchase vaccines.

The National Immunisation Program (NIP) Schedule lists the diseases for which immunisation is available and the ages at which doses should be given for those currently funded under the National Immunisation Program.

Although vaccines are provided free under the National Immunisation Program for the ages outlined in the Schedule, a GP consultation fee may be charged for the immunisation visit.

A: Records are kept by the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR) which is run by Medicare Australia.

ACIR was established in 1996 and is a national register administered by Medicare Australia that records details of vaccinations given to children under seven years of age who live in Australia. You can obtain a record of your child's immunisation history from ACIR through the Medicare Australia website. You will need to register for online services at the following link, and then you will be able to request a history statement.

Department of Human Services Website

Alternatively, you can call ACIR on 1800 653 809 and request a statement be sent to you.

If your child was born before 1989 you will need to get in contact with the general practice, health centre or immunisation provider your child attended for the first two years of their life. They will be able to provide you with a copy of their medical records, including all immunisations they have had.


Australian Government Department of Health & Ageing Website:

Whooping Cough

A: Whooping cough is still very much around. In fact, Australia is currently experiencing a whooping cough epidemic. In 2012, there were 24,069 people diagnosed with whooping cough. In 2013, there have already been 6,784 cases reported so far as of 31st July.

A: In adults, whooping cough is considered mild, but may cause coughing episodes for up to 100 days. The main issue lies in adults passing the disease on to babies under six months of age, who are not adequately protected.

Whooping cough is highly contagious, so you can easily spread it just by talking, sneezing, coughing or a simple kiss.

The disease can be serious in babies, causing them to stop breathing (and turn blue), contract pneumonia, have a seizure, suffer brain damage or be fatal.

A: A resistant whooping cough strain has become dominant and responsible for many cases, however further research is needed before any changes can be made. In light of the current epidemic, vaccination is still the best way to help reduce the severity of the infection and help reduce transmission to vulnerable babies.

A: Whooping cough vaccination is recommended for the following adults (who have not had a previous adolescent or adult booster):

  • Couples planning a pregnancy
  • New parents, as soon as possible after the birth
  • Grandparents
  • Other household adult members or carers of young children
  • Healthcare workers
  • Childcare workers
  • Any adult expressing an interest in diphtheria and tetanus vaccine should consider the three in one vaccine containing whooping cough

A: Whether you've had the disease or the vaccine, immunity to whooping cough only lasts for approximately six to ten years. Check your immunisation history to see if you are due for a booster shot.

A: If you contract whooping cough, you are contagious up to 14 days prior to coughing, so you may unknowingly pass it on to others before the main symptoms start to appear.

A: Antibiotics will be prescribed if whooping cough is detected early to help prevent spreading the infection to others. After five days of antibiotic treatment (or three weeks of the infection), you will no longer be contagious.


A: Influenza, or 'flu' as it is commonly called, is a contagious disease caused by a virus. Flu is often classified as a respiratory disease, but may affect the whole body.

The infection:

  • begins suddenly
  • may last five to ten days
  • may keep you in bed for up to five days
  • can disrupt your work life or holiday plans
  • can result in serious complications in high risk individuals

A: Flu and colds can have similar symptoms but if you have fever plus two of the following, it may be the flu:

  • Aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Sore throat

A. It is recommended by the AVIC1 that trivalent vaccines for use in the 2015 influenza season (southern hemisphere winter) in Australia contain the following:

an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1) -like virus (same strain as last year)

an A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)-like virus (different strain to last year)

a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (different strain to last year)

and that quadrivalent vaccines for use in the 2015 influenza season (southern hemisphere winter) contain the following:

· an A/California/07/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus

· an A/Switzerland/9715293/2013 (H3N2)-like virus

· a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (Yamagata lineage)

· a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (Victoria lineage)


1. The Australian Influenza Vaccine Committee (AIVC) website for this update.

A: Anyone can get the flu, even people who are young and healthy. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.


  • All individuals aged 65 years and over
  • All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals aged six months and over with medical conditions

FAQ Flu Home Page

A: The following medical conditions are associated with increased risk of influenza disease complications:

  • Pregnancy
  • Cardiac Disease
  • Chronic respiratory disease
  • Diabetes and other metabolic disorders
  • Renal disease
  • Chronic Neurological Disease
  • Immune impairment eg. HIV infection
  • Long term aspirin therapy in children aged >6 months to 10 years
  • Haematological disorders

Although not funded on the NIP, other individuals with at-risk conditions including Down Syndrome, obesity and alcoholism should consider an annual flu vaccination.

A: Flu symptoms usually last for a week, although it may take up to six weeks to fully recover.

A: Flu is a highly contagious disease that spreads via:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • touching contaminated objects and transferring germs to the respiratory system

A: The flu vaccine will not give you the flu. It does not contain 'live' virus, but merely alerts the body to the threat of the virus. One common side effect is mild soreness at the injection site, which can last a few days. One dose of influenza vaccine may protect you for a whole winter's flu season.

A: Flu viruses can live up to 48 hours on hard, nonporous surfaces such as stainless steel and up to 12 hours on cloth and tissues. They can remain infectious for about one week at human body temperature, over 30 days at freezing temperatures, and indefinitely at temperatures below freezing.

A: All 2014 southern hemisphere flu vaccines protect against the same 3 strains, however different brands are manufactured in different ways. Please speak to your GP regarding recommended brands for children or the elderly, as not all brands of flu vaccines can be used in children or the elderly.

A: Influenza vaccination is strongly recommended for pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy and is funded under the National Immunisation Program.


A: Travel insurance is essential. If you're uninsured, you (or your family) are personally liable for covering any medical or other costs resulting from unexpected incidents or accidents. Even if your travel insurance takes care of medical expenses, it won't stop you from getting sick. The best way to prevent illness while traveling is to visit your General Practitioner or travel medicine specialist six to eight weeks before your trip to discuss suitable vaccination options.

A: The vaccinations needed for your trip will depend on factors such as travel destination, length of trip, and what immunisations you've had before. Click here to find out what vaccines or medicines you may need when travelling. It is also recommended that you visit your General Practitioner six to eight weeks prior to traveling overseas to assess what vaccines or medicines are needed.

A: Disease prevalence differs by destination, but some of the most common include:

  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Cholera
  • Meningococcal disease
  • Rabies
  • Polio
  • Yellow fever
  • Malaria (even though there is no vaccine for malaria, it can be prevented by tablets and taking measures to avoid bites by mosquitos)

Although vaccine-preventable diseases are rare, the consequences can be high. It is recommended that you speak with your General Practitioner six to eight weeks prior to traveling overseas to discuss suitable vaccination options.

A: There are two situations where specific vaccines are mandated for travel:

  1. Yellow fever vaccine is required if travelling to certain endemic areas and entry can be denied if you are not vaccinated.  In addition, many countries require that travelers arriving from countries with a risk of yellow fever virus transmission provide evidence of yellow fever vaccination prior to entry.
  2. Meningococcal vaccine is required if travelling for the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

In general, most travel vaccines are recommended rather than mandated. These recommendations are based on advice from organisations such as the Center for Disease Control and World Health Organization that monitor disease activity and constantly adjust recommendations based on risk.

A: Although your childhood vaccinations may protect you against some diseases found overseas, they will not protect you against all of them. Some booster vaccines may also be recommended even if you have received all required childhood vaccinations.

A: It is recommended that you speak with your General Practitioner six to eight weeks before you travel. Some vaccines require multiple doses and even single-dose vaccines require time to "seroconvert" to provide maximum protection. If you are unable to visit your doctor well in advance of your trip, it is generally still better to get vaccinated even the day before you travel than not at all, however be aware that you may not be fully protected at the beginning of your trip.

A: There are a few reasons why you might not be able to get vaccinated:

  • Some vaccines are "contraindicated" (cannot be given) for various reasons. For example, vaccines produced in eggs cannot be given to people with severe egg allergies.
  • Some vaccines are not given to people of particular ages or for other reasons, as there may not be evidence to establish safety and efficacy in these groups, or the risks may outweigh the benefits.

Some vaccines are not given to pregnant women, so it is important to let your doctor know if you are, or think you may be, pregnant.

It is important that you seek advice from your healthcare provider prior to travelling. They should be advised of any health issues you may have or medications you are taking.

A: Depending on where you're going and what vaccines you've had before, you won't necessarily need to be vaccinated for every trip. It is important to keep a record of your vaccinations so you know what you've previously received. It is also recommended that you visit your General Practitioner six to eight weeks prior to traveling to discuss suitable vaccinations.

A: Although routine childhood vaccines are provided free-of-charge as part of the Commonwealth Government's National Immunisation Program, travel vaccines are generally considered 'private prescription' items and not covered by the PBS or private health insurances. Some travel and health insurance policies may provide partial or full reimbursement for travel vaccines, but you should check with your provider to confirm coverage.

Flu quiz