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Newborn babies arrive with some natural immunity to illness that is passed on from their mother. However, this only lasts a few months so in the UK routine childhood vaccinations start when a baby is two months old. Starting early allows children to develop their own antibodies to fi ght against viruses and bacteria, protecting them against infectious diseases.

Vaccines work by stimulating the immune system in the same way as an infection but without causing the “full-blown” disease. They enable children to develop the antibodies to each particular infection. The vaccines are made by using either dead viruses or bacteria, inactivated toxin from a virus or bacterium, a weakened form of a live virus or bacterium, or parts of a virus or bacterium.

So, what vaccinations are given to babies and children in the UK?

DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine This is a combined fi ve-in-one treatment against: D = diphtheria, T = tetanus, aP = acellular pertussis (whooping cough), IPV = polio, Hib = Haemophilus infl uenzae type B.

Diphtheria is a contagious bacterial disease that starts by affecting the throat and nose, causing fever and breathing diffi culties. It can damage the heart and nervous systems and the most severe cases can be fatal. Before the vaccination programme began there were a recorded 61,000 cases and 3,000 deaths in 1940. In 2006 there were only 10 recorded cases and one death, all infections being thought to have been contracted abroad.

Tetanus is a disease that affects the nervous system and can lead to muscle spasms, breathing problems and can be fatal. It is caught from germs that are found in the soil and manure that get into the body through open wounds, cuts and burns.

Pertussis (whooping cough) causes long bouts of coughing and choking, making breathing diffi cult. It can last up to 10 weeks. Babies aged under one year of age are at most risk although children and adults can also develop the condition. Since the vaccine has been introduced the number of cases has dropped from an average of 120,00 a year to 600 in 2005, for example.

Polio is a highly infectious disease that attacks the nervous system and severe cases can cause permanent muscle paralysis. If it affects the chest muscles or brain it can kill. Due to the effective vaccination in the UK there have been no cases for 20 years

Hib is an infection that can lead to a number of different illnesses such as septicaemia (blood poisoning), pneumonia and meningitis.

Pneumococcal vaccine (PCV) PCV protects against some types of pneumococcal infection which can cause diseases such as

P.24 Protecting against infectious diseases

pneumonia, septicaemia, ear infections and is one of the most common causes of meningitis. The vaccine does not however protect against meningitis caused by other bacteria or viruses.

Meningococcus type C (Men C) vaccine Men C protects against meningitis C and septicaemia caused by ‘meningococcal group c’ bacteria. Since the introduction of the vaccine the number of babies under one with the disease has fallen by 95%.

Measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. It contains weakened versions of the live viruses. Because of this, those who have had the vaccine cannot infect other people.

Measles is caused by an infectious virus that can be spread through coughing and sneezing in the same way as fl u. The symptoms include high fever and a rash. Complications can include chest infections, fi ts, encephalitis (infection of the brain), and brain damage.

Mumps is caused by a virus and can lead to fever, headache, painful swollen glands in the face, neck and jaw. It can also cause permanent deafness, viral meningitis and encephalitis. It is spread in the same way as measles and fl u.

Rubella is also known as German measles and is caused by a virus. It is usually mild in children and causes a rash, swollen glands and a sore throat. It is however dangerous for unborn babies as it can damage sight, hearing, heart and brain. Rubella caught in the fi rst three months of pregnancy causes damage to the unborn baby in nine out of 10 cases.

What is the schedule for vaccinations? Age

Vaccine 2 months 3 months 4 months

12 months 13 months

Human Papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine This is now routinely given to girls aged 12 to 13 to protect against the two main viruses that cause cervical cancer.

What about non-routine vaccinations?

Bacille Calamette Guerin (BCG) vaccine The BCG vaccine protects against tuberculosis (TB). It is now usually only given to babies and children who are most likely to catch the disease eg if they are living in an area with a high rate of TB or if their parents or grandparents were born in a country with a high rate of TB. TB usually affects the lungs and can also affect lymph glands, bones, joints and kidneys. Most cases can now be cured by treatment.

Hepatitis B vaccine

The hepatitis B vaccine is usually given to children who are most likely to catch the disease eg those who have a parent with hepatitis B, or babies born to infected mothers. Hepatitis is a viral infection of the liver. It is passed through infected blood from mothers to their babies. The Hepatitis B vaccine does not protect against other types of the virus.


This vaccination protects against chickenpox and is usually only given to siblings of children who have suppressed immune systems due to eg cancer treatment or having had an organ transplant.

Flu and Swine Flu Vaccination against seasonal fl u and swine fl uis offered to children with certain medical conditions or suppressed immune systems.

Type of injection Stage of vaccine course

DTaP/IPV/Hib 5-in-1 injection PCV


DTaP/IPV/Hib 5-in-1 injection Men C


DTaP/IPV/Hib 5-in-1 injection Men C PCV

Single Single

Hib/Men C MMR

PCV 3 years & 4 months MMR

- 5 years 12 - 13 years (girls) HPV 13 - 18 years


Single 3-in-1

Single 3-in-1

Single Single

First dose First dose

Second dose First dose

Third dose

Second dose Second dose


First dose Booster


3 doses over 6 months Booster

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