Vaccines are important to protect you and your child from common illnesses. The NHS provides all essential routine vaccinations for free. Many of them need to be given during the first few years of your child’s life and they are scheduled to provide the most effective protection possible. To help you understand which vaccines your child needs and why, we have compiled this little guide.
5-in-1, 4-in-1 and 3-in-1 Vaccines
The 5-in-1 vaccine is a very important vaccination for five serious childhood diseases: diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, tetanus and Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b). All five vaccinations are given in a single injection. The first dose needs to be given at the age of 2 months, followed by two more at the age of 3 and 4 months.
At 3 years and 4 months, your child will need a further booster known at the 4-in-1 vaccine (because it does not include Hib). This is known as the pre-school booster.
The last booster vaccine following is due during the teenage years and it should be given between 13 and 18. It is known as the 3-in-1 vaccine, as it boosts immunity for tetanus, diphtheria and polio.
Diphtheria, Whooping Cough and Polio Vaccines
Diphtheria is a bacterial infection. Due to widespread vaccination, it has become very rare in the UK. Diphtheria causes symptoms such as a high fever and a sore throat. It is dangerous when left untreated as it can lead to severe breathing difficulties.
Whooping cough affects the lungs and airways, causing a dry, persistent cough, which can lead to distressing gasping for breath. If it is not treated, it can become chronic, which means that the symptoms can persist for a long time – it used to be known as the “hundred day cough”. The infection is caused by bacteria and can lead to severe complications such as breathing difficulties and pneumonia, especially in very young children.
Polio is a disease which can cause paralysis and death in children. Since routine vaccination for polio was introduced in 1956, the illness has been eradicated. Most cases of polio reported in the UK affect children who have contracted the illness abroad. The polio vaccine is highly effective in preventing the infection.
Tetanus, Hib and Pneumococcal Vaccines
Tetanus is caused by a bacterium which commonly occurs in the environment, for example in soil, dust and faeces. If the bacterium enters your blood stream, for example through damaged skin or a wound, it produces a toxin that affects your nerves. It causes stiffness and spasm of the muscles throughout the body and in the face, which gave it the old name of lockjaw. An untreated tetanus can be fatal.
Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b)
Haemophilus bacteria can cause a range of illnesses, such as pneumonia and meningitis. As with other illnesses, the ongoing vaccination effort has greatly reduced the number of infections. In addition to the 5-in-1 vaccine, children receive a Hib booster alongside their meningitis C vaccine at the age of 12 - 13 months.
The pneumococcal vaccine boosts your immunity to infections caused by a certain type of bacterium, which causes a range of conditions such as bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia and infections of the blood. The vaccine consists of three doses given at the following ages:
- first dose - at 2 months
- second dose - at 4 months
- third dose - between 12 - 13 months
It is also recommended to get a booster at the age of 65.
Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
The MMR vaccine consists of one jab given to children at the age of 12 - 13 months followed by a booster at the age of 3 - 4. It protects you from measles, mumps and rubella.
Measles is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. Patients typically suffer from a rash, sensitivity to light and a high fever.
Rubella is also known as German measles. It typically causes a characteristic red rash, swollen glands and a high temperature. It is very dangerous to the unborn baby if the mother is infected with measles within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Rubella is caused by a virus.
Mumps causes facial swellings, joint pain and headaches as well as a high fever. The viral infection used to be very common but widespread vaccination has been very successful at reducing the occurrence.
The rotavirus causes diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain. It is dangerous to small children as it can cause a high fever and dehydration. The vaccine is given in two doses at the following ages:
- first dose - 2 months
- second dose - 3 months
Meningitis C is a dangerous bacterial infection which causes an inflammation of tissues surrounding the spinal cord and the brain. Your child will receive several doses of the vaccine:
- first dose - at the age of 3 months
- second dose - hib / men C booster at 12 - 13 months
- third dose meningitis C booster at the age of 13 – 15 yrs
The NHS also offers boosters for young people between the ages of 18 - 25 yrs who have missed the booster during their teenage years.
The meningitis C vaccine does not prevent meningitis B, so you still need to make sure that you know the symptoms of meningitis and that you know how to recognise them.
The HPV vaccine is part of the national vaccination schedule and for girls, it is free on the NHS. HPV is a very common virus which is transmitted during sex. It can cause genital warts and certain strains of the virus increase your risk of cervical cancer and other cancers. The vaccine can be given from the age of 9. The number of required doses is dependent on age - girls who receive the first dose under the age of 15 only need two doses. Girls who receive the first dose over the age of 15 require three doses.
Although the HPV vaccine is not free on the NHS for women over the age of 25 and for boys and men, they can still benefit from being vaccinated. To find out more, visit our page about the HPV vaccine.
Children’s flu vaccine
During winter 2014 /15, the NHS will pilot a new flu vaccine for children aged 2, 3 or 4, which will be given as a nasal spray. The vaccine will also be offered to schoolchildren between the ages 7-8 in certain areas of the country.
The NHS also offers free flu vaccines for people over the age of 65.
If you have any questions about the National Child Vaccination Schedule, speak to your GP. You should also speak to your GP if you are unsure whether you have received all standard vaccinations yourself.
Before you travel, you need to make sure you have all necessary vaccines to keep you safe during your stay abroad. The first step in this is making sure that you have had all of your routine vaccinations, as described above. The NHS also offers some travel vaccinations for free, this includes hepatitis A, typhoid and the cholera vaccine. To learn more about travel health and travel diseases, visit the Superdrug Travel Clinics website.