When your baby is six months old, one age-specific vaccine is recommended: the combined DTPa-Hib-IPV-HepB vaccine. This vaccine protects your baby from six diseases. Before influenza season, it is also recommended that your baby gets an influenza vaccine. The vaccines are given as needles, usually in baby’s leg.
What diseases do the vaccines protect babies from?
One age-specific vaccine is recommended for your child at 6 months of age. The technical name for the vaccine is DTPa-Hib-IPV-HepB (also called ‘combined’ or ‘hexavalent’), which strengthens children’s immunity to diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hib, polio and hepatitis B. Sometimes babies or children who have been vaccinated still catch one of the diseases, but they usually get much milder symptoms and recover more quickly than children who haven’t had the vaccine.
It is also recommended that your child gets an influenza vaccine every year before the influenza season. An influenza vaccine is one of the best ways to protect your child against influenza, sometimes called ‘the flu’. Influenza vaccines are free and can be given at the same time as age-specific vaccines.
You can read more about these diseases below:
Diphtheria is a very serious disease. It can cause a membrane (or skin) to grow over a baby’s throat, which stops them from breathing. You may not have heard of it because it is so rare in Australia now. The vaccine is still used here so that babies and children can’t catch diphtheria from people who have travelled to places where it is more common, including nearby holiday destinations in Asia and the South Pacific.1
Tetanus is sometimes called ‘lockjaw’. Tetanus affects all the muscles in a baby’s body, including the ones they use for breathing. The germ that causes tetanus lives in the soil, which means babies and children can get tetanus through a cut, a burn, a bite or even just a prick from something like a nail or a thorn.1
Pertussis is usually called ‘whooping cough’. It spreads very easily from one person to another through the air, like a cold. When someone who already has the disease coughs or sneezes, the pertussis germs float through the air on tiny droplets. If a baby breathes in those droplets, they can catch pertussis, too. Pertussis irritates the airways, which causes long coughing fits that can be very severe. Small babies can die from whooping cough.1
Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) causes a variety of serious illnesses, including swelling around the brain (meningitis), blood poisoning (sepsis), swelling in the throat and lung infections (pneumonia). Babies can die from the diseases caused by Hib. Those who survive often have brain damage. Hib spreads from person to person through the air, like a cold.1
Polio causes muscle paralysis in the limbs and can also affect the heart and the muscles that control breathing. It is rare in Australia but still common in countries including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Polio germs are spread through contact which means babies can catch polio when they put things like hands or toys in their mouth after someone with polio has been touching them.1 A person with polio can pass on the disease before they even know they are sick.
Hepatitis B is a liver infection. Babies usually don’t look or feel sick when they first catch hepatitis B, but it can cause serious liver diseases, including liver cancer, later in life. It spreads from person to person through open wounds or sores. This can happen in households or even childcare settings. People infected with hepatitis B can pass on the disease without even knowing they have it.1
Influenza is an illness caused by influenza viruses. Although some of the symptoms are similar, influenza is different from the common cold. Influenza is usually more severe and lasts longer. Even if your child is usually healthy, influenza can make them very unwell. Influenza can lead to serious conditions like severe lung infection (pneumonia) or inflammation in the brain (encephalitis). Babies and children under 5 years are more likely to get severe influenza. They are more likely than adults and older children to need treatment in hospital.1
What do I need to do before our appointment?
There’s no need to do anything special to get your baby ready for vaccinations.
Babies can usually get their vaccinations on time, even if they are feeling a little unwell. If your baby has a high fever or if you are worried they are too unwell to go ahead with the vaccinations, give your doctor or nurse a call. They will let you know if you should come in, or if you need to make an appointment for another day.
You’ll need to take your baby’s health record booklet with you (that’s the one you were given in hospital or at the birth centre when your baby was born). Your doctor or nurse will make notes in the booklet about your baby’s growth and development, and write down the details of the vaccinations they had.
What will happen when we get there?
Some parents take their babies to their local general practice where the doctor (GP) or practice nurse will give the vaccine. Others take their babies to a vaccination clinic run by nurses. The majority of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services also give vaccinations. Vaccination appointments can run differently in different places but this is a rough guide to what you can expect on the day.
- Appointments usually begin with a health check. Your doctor or nurse will ask you how you and your baby are going. They will ask if you have any questions for them. They’ll measure and weigh your baby. And they will write some notes in your baby’s health record booklet to help you keep track of how they’re growing and developing.
- Once that’s done, the doctor or nurse will get the vaccinations ready. Some doctors will ask you to go to another room where a nurse who is specially trained in vaccinating children will vaccinate your baby.
- Most doctors and nurses will suggest that you hold your baby during the vaccinations. If you find it upsetting, ask a family member or friend to do it for you. If you can’t bring anyone with you, let your doctor or nurse know: they may be able to arrange someone to stand in for you.
- The needles usually goes in the baby’s leg. The doctor or nurse will be as quick and gentle as they can.
- The doctor or nurse will ask you to stay at the clinic for about 15 minutes after the vaccinations. This is so they can make sure everything is OK before you and your baby leave.
Take a look at our video: What will happen when I get there?
How can I make it easier for my baby?
No matter how gentle your doctor or nurse is, needles hurt! And most babies cry at least a little after they get a needle.
The good news is there are things you can do for your child to make needles feel less painful.
- Holding or cuddling babies triggers the release of pain-relieving hormones, so you can hold your baby firmly, for example in a chest-to-chest position, before, during and after the needles.2
- There are pain-relieving substances in breastmilk so, if your baby is breastfed, you can offer a breastfeed during or straight after the needles.2
- Sucking helps relieve babies’ pain. If your baby is no longer breastfeeding, you can offer a dummy or have a bottle of formula ready to go.
Take a look at our video: How can I make it easier for my child?
How will my baby feel after the vaccinations?
For a day or two afterwards, some children could feel a little unwell. The most common reactions are:
- redness, soreness or swelling at the spot where the needles went in
- a small, hard, painless bump (also called a nodule) at the spot where the needle went in
- loss of appetite
- mild fever (temperature)
- grizzly or unsettled behaviour
- sometimes vomiting or diarrhoea.
Most of these symptoms last between 12 and 24 hours and then get better. Nodules may take a few weeks to disappear.
If your baby doesn’t seem to be getting better, or you are worried about your baby, you can get help from:
- your doctor
- or your nearest emergency department
- or by calling Health Direct on 1800 022 222.
Are there any rare side effects I need to know about?
Serious side effects are very rare, but they can happen and some parents want to know more about them before they vaccinate their children.
About one in every 3,000 babies experience fits or seizures known as ‘febrile convulsions’ after vaccination. Febrile convulsions are scary for parents to see, but babies usually recover quickly without any long-term effects.1 Febrile convulsions can occur when a baby’s temperature goes up very quickly, and stop once their temperature stops rising.
‘Anaphylaxis’ is a severe allergic reaction to one of the vaccine ingredients. Less than one in every one million babies who gets a vaccine has this reaction.1 Anaphylaxis usually happens within a few minutes of vaccination, before you and your baby leave the clinic. Your doctor or nurse knows what to do to help a baby having an anaphylactic reaction recover quickly.
When do we come back for more vaccinations?
Three more vaccinations are recommended when your baby is twelve months old. At that time, new vaccines protect children from measles, mumps, rubella and meningococcal disease. Your child will also have a vaccine to strengthen their immunity to pneumococcus.
If your child has had an influenza vaccine for the first time, they will need a second dose four weeks later.
It is important that babies and children get vaccinated on time to make sure they are protected as early as possible.
What if I still have questions?
If you still have some questions about vaccinations for your baby, write them down and make an appointment with your nurse, your doctor, or your health worker so you can ask them.
- Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI). Australian Immunisation Handbook, Australian Government Department of Health, Canberra, 2018, immunisationhandbook.health.gov.au
- Taddio A, et al. Reducing pain during vaccine injections: clinical practice guideline. Canadian Medical Association Journal 2015;187:975-982 http://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/187/13/975.full.pdf