Baby immunisations and vaccinations

We look at the early baby immunisations and vaccinations schedule. Here’s what you need to know and why it matters

You might wonder why babies need extra protection or any immunisations in the first place. It’s because before they’re born, babies receive antibodies against infections from the placenta. This gives your newborn immediate but short-lived protection. This is a type of natural immunity called passive immunity (Baxter, 2007).

After several weeks to three or four months (at most) that passive immunity wears off so your baby is not protected from infections. That means your baby will need active immunisation through vaccinations. This is where the immunisations programme comes in. 

Whether you’re all for the vaccinations modern medicine has brought us or not, they have made formerly common childhood diseases rare (CDC, 2018). And the decision to vaccinate or not can make a difference. In August 2019, England lost its 'measles-free' status with the World Health Organization. This is due to 231 confirmed cases of measles in the first three months of 2019 (New Scientist, 2019). Experts are pointing to 'sub-optimal' take-up of MMR for this (Gov.uk, 2019).

Here’s what you need to know about vaccinations and baby immunisations.

Your child’s schedule of baby immunisations

Every baby and child in the UK is offered a schedule of routine immunisations starting from when they’re two months old. The Department of Health, Public Health England and NHS England all recommend these immunisations to help protect your baby from what would otherwise be common childhood diseases.

In some areas, your baby will be offered a BCG tuberculosis (TB) vaccination in the first day or so. This will also be the case if your baby has family members visiting from countries that have high rates of TB (NHS, 2019a).

It is important that your baby gets immunised at the right age, as this will help to keep the risk of your child catching a serious disease as low as possible. Premature babies might be at greater risk of infection so immunisations are particularly important for them (NHS, 2015).

You’ll be given a personal child health record (PCHR) that’s called a ‘red book’. It’s called that because the cover is usually red and it’s for recording your child’s health. It contains details of the fairly rigid schedule to follow for immunisations. Your baby’s GP might also send you reminders for when their immunisations are due.

Your baby will be protected sooner if they keep to the schedule for their immunisations. If something does happen to delay or interrupt the schedule, they can pick it up again at any time. Although something to be aware of is that delays to some immunisations can slightly change the schedule (Patient, 2018).

Here’s what the current schedule for immunisations in the UK looks like.

At two months (eight weeks)

  • 6-in-one vaccine (DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB) – this provides protection for following vaccines: diptheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and hepatitis B.
  • Pneumococcal or pneumo jab (PCV) – this provides protection against some types of pneumococcal infection.
  • Men B vaccine – this provides protection against meningitis (caused by meningococcal type B bacteria).
  • Rotavirus – this jab provides protection against rotavirus infection, a common cause of childhood diarrhoea and sickness.

(GOV.UK 2018, NHS, 2016a)

At three months (twelve weeks)

  • 6-in-one vaccine (DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB) (second dose)
  • Rotavirus (second dose)

(GOV.UK 2018, NHS, 2016a)

At four months (sixteen weeks)

  • 6-in-one vaccine (DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB) (third dose)
  • Pneumococcal (PCV) (second dose)
  • Men B (second dose)

(GOV.UK 2018, NHS, 2016a)

One year old (on or after the child’s first birthday)

  • Hib and MenC (Hib/MenC): this jab is given as a single dose and provides protection against Meningitis C (first dose) and HiB (fourth dose)
  • Pneumococcal (PCV) (third dose)
  • Men B (third dose)
  • Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) (MMR): this jab is given as a single dose and provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella.

(GOV.UK 2018, NHS, 2016a)

At two years old (and older)

  • Influenza (available each year from September) (GOV.UK 2018, NHS, 2016a).

Risks and myths about baby immunisations

Some parents decide not to vaccinate their babies because of concerns about the potential side effects they might cause. Yet it’s important to balance the benefits of having a vaccine against the chances of harm.

Risks

While every medicine has side effects, vaccines are among the safest of medicines. The majority of side effects that vaccinations cause are mild and don’t last long (NHS, 2016b).

Common side effects of vaccinations in babies include redness or swelling around the injection site, and a slight temperature that normally disappears within a couple of days. Extremely rare side effects (less than one in a million) include anaphylactic reaction, which needs to be treated promptly to reduce its dangerous symptoms (NHS, 2016b).

Myths

You might be worried about links between vaccinations and other health conditions. Be aware that lots of anti-vaccine stories are spread online and they're not based on scientific evidence. For example, you might have read about a link between the MMR vaccination and autism but a lot of good-quality research has found no evidence that any link exists (NHS, 2014; Taylor et al, 2014; Hviid et al, 2019; NHS, 2019b).

If you have any concerns, do have a chat with your GP or health visitor to make sure you're making your decision based on reliable information.

Breastfeeding and immunity

Breastfeeding gives babies some passive protection from infection mostly through antibodies in breastmilk. The protection against infections seems to improve the longer babies are breastfed. Yet this passive immunity is temporary and the same vaccination schedule is recommended however you feed your baby.

Breastfeeding also seems to be able to stimulate a baby’s immune system. Some studies show breastfeeding might even increase a baby’s responses to vaccines (Hanson, 1999).

Premature babies and immunisations

Premature babies are at a higher risk of infection. It’s important that they are immunised following the routine immunisation schedule starting from when they’re two months old, regardless of how early they were born. It could be possible that they start their immunisation when they are still at hospital but your doctor will be able to advise you on this (NHS, 2015).

Protecting your child

If you decide not to vaccinate your baby, they are at risk of catching a range of potentially disabling or fatal diseases like meningitis or measles (NHS, 2016b). Unfortunately, these diseases have not vanished but the vaccinations modern medicine has brought us can lower the risks of outbreaks happening and protect your child from them (CDC, 2018).

This page was last reviewed in August 2019.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Further information on immunisation for children can be found at NHS Choices.

Healthtalkonline.org, shares people’s experiences of health and illness based on qualitative research, posts a wide range of information on immunisation.

Baxter D. (2007) Active and passive immunity, vaccine types, excipients and licensing. Occupational Medicine. 57(8):552-556. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18045976 [Accessed 31st October 2018]

CDC. (2018) What would happen if we stopped vaccinations? Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm [Accessed 31st October 2018]

GOV.UK. (2018) Complete routine immunisation schedule. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/741543/Complete_immunisation_schedule_sept2018.pdf [Accessed 31st October 2018]

GOV.UK. (2019) Measles in England. Available at: https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2019/08/19/measles-in-england/

Hanson LA. (1999) Breastfeeding provides passive and likely long-lasting active immunity. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 81(6):n523-33. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9892025 [Accessed 31st October 2018]

Hviid A, Hansen JV, Frisch M, Melbye M. (2019) Measles, mumps, rubella vaccination and autism: a nationwide cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 170(8):513-520. Available at: https://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2727726/measles-mumps-rubella-vaccination-autism-nationwide-cohort-study [Accessed 22nd August 2019]

New Scientist. (2019) The UK has lost its World Health Organization ‘measles-free’ status. Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2213764-the-uk-has-lost-its-world-health-organization-measles-free-status/

NHS. (2014) 'No link between MMR and autism,' major study finds. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/news/medication/no-link-between-mmr-and-autism-major-study-finds/ [Accessed 22nd August 2019]

NHS. (2015) A quick guide to childhood immunisations for the parents of premature babies. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20150711065044/https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-quick-guide-to-childhood-immunisation-for-the-parents-of-premature-babies [Accessed 31st October 2018]

NHS. (2016a) Childhood vaccines timeline. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/childhood-vaccines-timeline/ [Accessed 31st October 2018]

NHS. (2016b) Benefits and risks of vaccination. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/benefits-and-risks/ [Accessed 31st October 2018]

NHS. (2019a) BCG tuberculosis (TB) vaccine. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/bcg-tuberculosis-tb-vaccine/#when-is-the-bcg-vaccination-given [Accessed 31st October 2018]

NHS. (2019b) Vaccines not linked with autism, study finds. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/news/neurology/vaccines-not-linked-with-autism-study-finds/ [Accessed 22nd August 2019]

Patient. (2018) Immunisations. Available at: https://patient.info/health/immunisation [Accessed 31st October 2018]

Taylor LE, Swerdfeger AL, Eslick GD. (2014) Vaccines are not associated with autism: an evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. Vaccine. 32(29):3623-3629.  Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24814559 [Accessed 22nd August 2019]                                            

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