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Immunisation - Frequently Asked Questions

Immunisation provides protection against infections for an individual person. However one of the bigger benefits is that if enough people are immunised, the disease is controlled or even wiped out. This is called 'herd immunity' and means that the community is protected too. Herd immunity is very important, particularly as some people cannot be immunised. They may be too young, have health problems or be pregnant which may mean they should not receive some vaccines.

This page answers some frequently asked questions about immunisation. If your question is not answered here, try the external links section below.

What is immunisation?

Immunisation is a way of protecting against serious diseases. Once we have been immunised against a disease, our bodies are more able to fight that disease if we come into contact with it.

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Why do we need immunisation?

Our bodies have a natural defence system against disease, called the immune system. The immune system produces substances called antibodies which help fight off infection and prevent disease. However, many diseases can cause serious long lasting health problems and even death before we can build up antibodies. Immunisations are given to strengthen the immune system to fight off those diseases if they come into contact with them.

Around the world, more than 15 million people a year die from infectious diseases. More than half of these are children under the age of five. Most of these deaths could have been prevented by immunisation.

In the UK these diseases are kept at bay by the high immunisation rates.

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If these diseases have effectively disappeared in this country, why do we need to immunise against them?

Vaccines have been used so successful in the UK, diseases such as polio and diphtheria have effectively disappeared from this country.

However, as people travel around the world, there is a risk that they will bring these diseases back into the UK. The diseases may spread to people who haven’t been immunised.

Immunisation doesn’t just protect the individual, it also helps to protect the family and wider community, especially those who, for medical reasons, can’t be immunised.

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Do I have to pay for immunisations?

All immunisations recommended by the Department of health are free.

This includes; the seasonal Influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations for those at highest risk of serious illness from Influenza or pneumococcal disease.

It also includes all the vaccines recommended for children in the national schedule, It is important that your child has their immunisations at the right age. This will help keep the risk of your child catching these diseases as low as possible.

Your GP or Practice nurse will be able to advise you.

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How do we know vaccines are safe?

Before a vaccine is licensed, its safety and effectiveness have to be thoroughly tested. After they have been licensed, the safety of vaccines continues to be monitored.

Any rare side effects that are discovered can then be assessed further. All medicines can cause side effects, but research from around the world shows vaccines are among the very safest.

Vaccines contain a small part of the bacterium or virus that causes the disease, or tiny amounts of the chemicals that the bacterium produces. Vaccines work by causing the body’s immune system to make antibodies.

Immunisation is the safest and most effective way of protecting against serious diseases.

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Useful links

The following useful links can be found in the external links section below:

  • Immunisations NHS provides useful information about routine childhood immunisations, which vaccines are given when and a host of Frequently Asked Questions from parents.
  • The Health Protection Agency is a UK body providing advice and support to healthcare organisations including the NHS, emergency services and department of health. The HPA is responsible for helping protect the community from infectious disease and other hazards to health.
  • Meningitis UK provides up to date information about meningitis, including recently undertaken research.

Page Last Updated:

3 August 2015

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