Updated: Jun 2
As a parent seeing your little one get vaccinated can be hard. Our GP Expert, Dr Andrew McDonald, shares his tips and tricks on how best to help your little one get vaccinated, along with greater detail explaining what the current vaccinations are on the Australian schedule and what age they are given.
The National Immunisation program in Australia has been developed and refined over
several decades based on local and overseas research by medical experts. It is difficult to
estimate just how many lives have been saved by this programme , and how much illness
has been prevented. Vaccinating against common and rare but serious illnesses is
an important consideration for all parents.
Below you will find a list of the vaccinations on the vaccination schedule and what age they are administered.
Routine childhood immunisations (free of charge)
Diseases covered by the current programme (2023) include:
Tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), two causes of bacterial meningitis and respiratory infections (Haemophilus and pneumococcus), hepatitis B, and rotavirus.
These vaccines comprise the primary vaccines given at six weeks, at four months, and again at six months of age, excluding the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines. At each of these ages, there are two injections and a dose of oral syrup.
All these vaccines are important, none more so than the whooping cough vaccine. Research
finds that those most at risk of becoming seriously ill with whooping cough are
unimmunised babies under six months of age.
Note that the schedule differs slightly for Indigenous babies.
Measles, mumps and rubella.
These vaccines cannot be given separately from the other and are given at 12 months
with a booster at 18 months old. Of these, measles is arguably the most serious disease, and
whilst rare, there are occasional outbreaks in areas with low immunisation rates. Measles
sounds harmless, and old-world-it is not, as most people who contract it are quite sick, and a
small percentage get severe complications.
This routine vaccine is given at 18 months of age.
Meningococcal disease types ACW&Y against another type of bacterial meningitis.
This is given at 12 months of age as a single injection. If parents wish, they can have it
earlier-as three doses in the first year of life, but if so, the vaccine is not free of charge.
Optional vaccines for babies
The meningococcal B vaccine (brand name Bexsero) costs around $120 per dose and, if given in the first year of age, requires two doses with a booster some months later. It is an expensive but excellent vaccine against a rare but severe disease.
Note: this vaccine is free of charge for First Nations children.
Influenza (free of charge for children six months to five years old)
The flu vaccine can be given from 6 months of age. The 1st course requires two doses, then just one single dose each year. Whilst it could be seen as essential for all children, it is especially important for those with respiratory conditions (for example, asthma) or for
those with a suppressed immune system.
Advice for parents
Vaccines do cause some pain….but not for long!
They hurt more if the baby or child moves during the injection, and the nurse or doctor will show you exactly how best to hold the baby and not proceed until the position is ideal. For babies, vaccines are usually given in the leg. When they are over 12 months, they may be given in the arm.
In my experience, local anaesthetic creams do little to prevent the pain; however, having
your baby sucking or feeding may help. I prefer to do the vaccines quickly and for the
parent to offer a feed immediately.
Bandaids are not required-they cause pain by removing them. A cotton ball with tape is the most that is necessary.
Unless your baby has had a fever or significant pain with a previous immunisation, I do not recommend the routine use of paracetamol. The exception is before a meningococcal B vaccine. Whilst itself a modern vaccine, the rate of fever or pain from this vaccine seems higher than other modern vaccines, and a dose of paracetamol may help. Note: paracetamol should not be given to babies under four weeks of age. Premature babies should be more than four weeks beyond their due date.
When to seek further advice
The GP or the health practitioner who immunised you and your baby should outline the common reactions to the vaccine given. In contrast to previous decades, severe vaccine reactions are rare.
Expect some discomfort, minor swelling or redness at the injection site. Don’t be surprised
if there is a fever.
Seek medical advice if you notice:
High fever over 39 degrees AND your baby is unwell
Any change in colour or conscious state
Protracted screaming or vomiting
Severe swelling and redness
Resources include Nurse-on-Call, your local doctor, or your local paediatric emergency department.
Final words of advice
It is natural for parents to be wary about immunising their children. However, I am 100% certain it is the right thing to do for your baby and the community. If you have doubts, please discuss these with your doctor.
Alternatively, large paediatric hospitals have dedicated Immunisation Clinics where the top
experts can discuss your concerns and give you up-to-date evidence and advice.
To learn more about the early years of parenthood, check out our Masterclass Series and our Parenting Portal - your expert guide to parenthood, a library of stage-based videos, expert articles and guides.
Dr Andrew McDonald is Parents You've Got This GP Expert and has over 30 years of experience as a general practitioner. He is a lecturer at the University of Melbourne, where he coordinates Clinical Skills for first-year medical students.