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Why immunisation is important
Immunisation is important because it helps to protect your child from infectious diseases, some of which can be life threatening.
Immunisation is also good for you and your child because it stops infectious diseases spreading in the community. Sometimes, immunisation can get rid of these diseases completely, as in the case of smallpox.
This happens through herd immunity. Herd immunity is when enough people in the community are immunised against a disease, and the spread of the bacteria or virus that causes the disease either slows down or stops completely. We need herd immunity to protect vulnerable children who might not be able to get immunised because they're too young or have a serious illness - for example, a weak immune system.
Some of the diseases we immunise against aren't as common in Australia as they once were, because of Australia's long-term immunisation program. But immunisation is still essential to stop these diseases from coming back.
Immunisations recommended for teenagers
The Australian National Immunisation Program (NIP) recommends and funds childhood immunisation.
The NIP schedule also recommends and funds extra immunisations for teenagers against the following diseases:
- whooping cough
- human papillomavirus (HPV)
- meningococcal disease (strains A, C, W and Y).
The medicines used to immunise your child are called vaccines. All vaccines used in immunisation have been tested and are safe for your child at the recommended ages.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation
The NIP recommends and funds two human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisations for boys and girls aged 12-13 years.
HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection. The majority of HPV infections go away on their own, but some of them cause diseases like genital warts and also genital cancers like cervical cancer in women and penile cancer in men.
For the HPV immunisation to work, you must have it before you come into contact with the virus. This is why health professionals recommend HPV immunisation during the early teenage years, before children are sexually active.
Immunisation boosters for teenagers
The immunity that you get from some immunisations can last a lifetime. With others, immunity can slowly decrease over time. This means that you sometimes need immunisations after childhood to boost your immunity against some diseases.
The NIP recommends and funds two immunisation boosters in the teenage years.
At 12-13 years of age
Your child will get a booster against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. This is given as a single injected dose of a three-in-one vaccine.
At 14-16 years
Your child will get a booster against the A, C, W and Y strains of meningococcal disease. This is given as a single injected dose.
There are more childhood immunisations recommended on the NIP schedule than there used to be. This means that some older children might not be immunised against all the same diseases as younger children. Also, some teenagers might have missed immunisations in childhood.
The NIP funds catch-up immunisations for teenagers, including immunisations against chickenpox and hepatitis B.
Other recommended immunisations
Extra immunisations are recommended for teenagers who are at a higher risk of certain diseases and health complications.
Teenagers who might need extra immunisations include:
- teenagers with certain underlying medical conditions - for example, cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders
- teenagers travelling overseas.
Some immunisations for teenagers at higher risk of disease are funded under the NIP. This includes the seasonal influenza immunisation for children with underlying medical conditions.
Talk with your GP or immunisation provider if:
- you think your teenage child might have a bigger risk of getting an infectious disease and might need extra immunisations
- your child needs an immunisation that isn't funded under the NIP.
Where to get immunisations
Teenagers get NIP immunisations at school. Your GP can also give your child immunisations.
Trained nurses run school immunisation clinics on set days to give recommended immunisations to students at the appropriate age.
If you want your child to have these immunisations, you must sign a consent form and send it back to school. Without this form, your child can't be immunised. You can withdraw your consent at any time before the immunisation.
If your child misses one of these immunisations at school, he can get it at a school catch-up clinic, his GP or a community immunisation clinic.
Your child can't get any extra immunisations that aren't recommended on the NIP at school. She'll need to see her GP about these ones. If she needs travel immunisation, she can get some of the immunisations from her GP or go to a travel immunisation clinic to get all of them.
There are specialist immunisation clinics in most states and territories. These clinics are for children and teenagers who've had adverse reactions to previous immunisations or are in high-risk groups, or for families who are concerned about immunising their children. You usually need a referral from your GP to go to one of these clinics.
Your GP, school nurse, paediatrician or other specialist health professional is the best person to talk with about immunisation. Your child's health professionals know you and your child best. They'll listen to you, take the time to answer your questions, and give you the most up-to-date information about immunisation.
The Australian Government funds teenage immunisations on the NIP schedule.
You don't normally pay for an NIP immunisation if your child gets this service at school. But if your child gets the immunisation at a GP or an immunisation clinic, you might have to pay a consultation fee (even though the vaccine itself is free if your child has it during the school year that it's recommended).
If your child needs extra immunisations that aren't part of the NIP schedule - for example, the annual influenza vaccine for a healthy child, or travel vaccines - you might need to get a prescription for the vaccine and buy it from a pharmacy. Some doctors have these vaccines available in their clinics.
The costs of vaccines vary depending on the type of vaccine, the formula and the place you buy it from.
Your child's immunisation history and the Australian Immunisation Register
Your child's immunisation history is recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR).
Your child's immunisation history statement is a useful personal record. It's also proof that your child is up to date with recommended immunisations.
Your child is put onto the AIR automatically once he's enrolled in Medicare as a baby. If your child is younger than 14, you can request your child's immunisation history statement at any time through your Medicare online account on myGov, by asking your immunisation provider or by calling the AIR on 1800 653 809. For privacy reasons, if your child is older than 14, your child has to request his own statement.
With permission, your GP can also access your child's immunisation history on the AIR. This can help with planning your child's immunisation and health care needs.
The AIR will send a reminder letter if your child is overdue for an immunisation.
Vaccines, vaccination and immunisation
You might hear the terms vaccine, vaccination and immunisation:
- A vaccine protects you from a disease. It's a medicine.
- Vaccination means actually getting the vaccine, usually through injection.
- Immunisation means both getting the vaccine and being protected from the disease.
Most people use 'vaccination' and 'immunisation' to mean the same thing, although they're not quite the same.