10 things parents need to know about vaccinations

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I remember my son's six-week vaccinations vividly. I'd been counting down the days until he could have them; he was born in July and, being a winter baby, I had decided not to take him out in public too often until he had received those first vaccinations.

But the reason I remember his vaccinations so vividly is because it was when I realised I knew nothing about vaccinations. As I prepared to walk out of the room the doctor said to me, "I'll see you again in two and a half months."

"Two and a half months?" I asked.

"Yes, for his four-month vaccinations."

"Oh, that soon," I said, as it dawned on me I had no idea when his vaccinations were due, except that the first one was due at the 6-week mark. "Of course, I'll see you then."

"Why don't you have a read through his blue book when you get home. There's information about vaccinations, as well as the immunisation schedule, in there."

So that's exactly what I did. While I had researched almost everything while I was pregnant, from car seats to gestational growth to birth plans, I hadn't researched anything about early childhood vaccinations.

So if you are a new parent, or an expecting parent, and don't know much about vaccinations, here are 10 things you should know.

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1. There is a recommended immunisation schedule

The current immunisation schedule recommends children receive vaccinations 6 weeks, 4 months, 6 months, 12 months, 18 months and  4 years following their birth. Which brings us to point two …   

2. The timing of vaccinations matter

According to NSW Health, timely vaccination is the best way to protect your child from serious vaccine-preventable diseases. This is because certain vaccinations have to be given at certain times, and at different times within the immunisation schedule your child is vaccinated against different diseases. If you let time lapse between the recommended schedules, your child may no longer be immune to vaccine-preventable diseases. If this is the case, it's recommended you speak to your doctor about a catch-up schedule.

3. You are not just protecting your child but the wider community

Have you heard about herd immunity? The idea is that because a large percentage of the population is immune to a certain disease it provides indirect protection to those special groups of people who are unable to be immunised or vulnerable to contracting diseases. So when you vaccinate your child, you are helping to lower the prevalence of vaccine-preventable diseases across the whole community.  

4. Even if your little one is off-colour, they can still be vaccinated

NSW Health say even if your child is feeling off-colour, or has a runny nose or slight cold, they can still receive their shot.

5. Serious side effects are very rare

Research has proved time and time again that vaccines are safe and effective. The benefits are huge and  greatly outweigh any risk. However, NSW Health says there can be some mild and short lasting side effects, such as pain, swelling and redness – nothing time, some extra cuddles and maybe some paracetamol can't fix.  

6. There are a number of myths about vaccinations

There are many myths surrounding immunisation, and if you have any concerns about vaccinating your child you should raise these with your GP or health professional so they can educate you on the realities. The Australian Department of Health provides a number of resources about myths and realities.

7. Vaccines are free

The recommended childhood vaccines are free in NSW (if you live in another state, check out your local policy) through GPs, Aboriginal Medical Services, some local councils and some health centres. (the NSW Immunisation Schedule is available here).

If you are unsure what services are available in your area, you can contact your nearest Public Health Unit in NSW on 1300 066 055 for more information.

8. It is important that adults are vaccinated too

It really is important that the whole family is up to date with their vaccinations. Not only does this make the community stronger, but it helps protect children in your family who aren't vaccinated – such as newborn babies – against vaccine-preventable diseases, such as whooping cough.

9. There is an app to help you save the date to vaccinate

NSW Health has a wonderful app – Save the Date to Vaccinate – that personalises your child's immunisation schedule based on their birth date, and then reminds you to make a doctor's appointment in the lead up to your child's next scheduled vaccinations.

10. The 'No Jab No Pay' scheme

In NSW, as of January this year, parents who don't fully immunise their child (up to 19 years of age) will no longer be eligible for Child Care Benefit, Child Care Rebate and the Family Tax Benefit Part A (family assistance payments).

There are some medical exemptions, however objection is not a valid reason for exemption. Learn more here

Learn more at immunisation.health.nsw.gov.au.