The UK vaccination and immunisation schedule: when to vaccinate your kids

Reviewed by Dr Louise Wiseman MBBS, BSc (Hons), DRCOG, MRCGP, Based on a text by Dr Vibeke Manniche
·9-min read
Photo credit: ELENA BESSONOVA - Getty Images
Photo credit: ELENA BESSONOVA - Getty Images

From Netdoctor

As part of the national childhood immunisation schedule, all children in the UK are offered vaccinations against key preventable diseases. The vaccine programme changes from time to time, as new vaccines become available, or new research shows that giving existing vaccines at different times improves protection.

Here is everything you need to know about the the latest vaccine schedule for your children, as well as the benefits of immunisation and any potential side-effects you should be aware of:

The vaccination schedule 2020

When are childhood vaccines given? The schedule below is used in the UK. Vaccinations at the ages of eight weeks and pre-school (three to five years) are usually combined with a routine medical examination.

8 weeks

  • Diphtheria + Tetanus + Pertussis + Polio + Hib + Hepatitis B: 6-in-1 baby vaccine - one injection into the thigh.

  • Rotavirus: one dose of liquid into the baby's mouth.

  • Meningitis B: one injection into the thigh.

12 weeks

  • Diphtheria + Tetanus + Pertussis + Polio + Hib + Hepatitis B: 6-in-1 baby vaccine - one injection into the thigh.

  • Pneumococcal: one injection into the thigh.

  • Rotavirus: one dose of liquid into the baby's mouth.

16 weeks

  • Diphtheria + Tetanus + Pertussis + Polio + Hib + Hepatitis B: 6-in-1 baby vaccine - one injection into the thigh.

  • Meningitis B: one injection into the thigh.

12 months

  • Meningitis C + Hib: one injection into the thigh or upper arm.

  • Measles + Mumps + Rubella (MMR): one injection into the thigh or upper arm.

  • Pneumococcal: one injection into the thigh or upper arm.

  • Meningitis B :one injection into the thigh or upper arm.

2 and 3 years

  • Flu: nasal spray into the nostrils, given every year.

3 years 4 months

  • Diphtheria + Tetanus + Pertussis + Polio: 4-in-1 pre-school booster - one injection into the upper arm.

  • Measles + Mumps + Rubella (MMR): one injection into the upper arm.

12 to 13 years

  • HPV: two injections into the upper arm, given between 6 and 24 months apart. In 2019 the HPV vaccination schedule was altered to include boys aged 12 to 13 as well as girls.

14 years

  • Meningitis ACWY: one injection into the upper arm.

  • Diphtheria + Tetanus + Polio: 3-in-1 teenage booster - one injection into the upper arm.

19 to 25 years

  • Meningitis ACWY: one injection into the upper arm.

The BCG vaccine to prevent tuberculosis is no longer given routinely to school-age children. This vaccine is only recommended for children at high risk of the disease.

What childhood vaccines are available?

The vaccination programme is given to prevent the following diseases:

  • Cervical cancer and oral cancers from human papilloma virus (HPV)

  • Diphtheria

  • Hepatitis B

  • Hib: vaccination against the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae type B, which can cause meningitis, pneumonia, blood poisoning and infection of the epiglottis (back of the throat)

  • Genital warts

  • Influenza (flu)

  • Measles

  • Meningitis caused by meningococcal bacteria groups A, B, C, W and Y

  • Mumps

  • Polio

  • Pneumococcal: vaccination against the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (known as pneumococcus), which can cause meningitis, pneumonia, severe ear infections (otitis media) and blood poisoning

  • Rotavirus: this virus is a very common cause of a potentially serious infection of the large bowel called gastroenteritis in young babies

  • Rubella (German measles)

  • Tetanus

  • Whooping cough (pertussis)

Why childhood vaccination is essential

Vaccination can prevent your child from getting serious diseases that can kill or cause long-term health problems. Vaccinated children are much less likely to suffer the devastating consequences of these diseases. Immunisation also helps to prevent outbreaks and epidemics of these infectious diseases. This is because there are more people in the community who are immune to the disease so there is less opportunity for the infection to circulate.

Vaccines contain a tiny part of the virus or bacteria that causes a disease. The vaccine cannot cause the disease itself. When the vaccine is given, the body's immune system reacts towards it and produces antibodies against it. These antibodies remain in the body and will be ready to recognise that virus or bacteria and protect your child should he or she ever come into contact with that infection.

Some people worry that a child's immune system can be 'overloaded' with the number of vaccines they are given. This is simply not true. The immune system is designed to deal with and protect the body from a multitude of bacteria, viruses and other germs that are encountered on a daily basis from birth. Just think how many germs it has to deal with once a baby starts to crawl and puts everything it can find in its mouth!

What if your child is unwell?

When children have a fever (high temperature), the vaccination should be postponed until they are better.

If your child has an ordinary cold, but their temperature is normal, it is safe for the vaccine to be given. However if your child has a very blocked or runny nose they shouldn't be given the nasal spray flu vaccine until they are better.

It will always be at the clinical discretion of the nurse and doctor running the immunisation clinic if they think any child should wait until recovered from an illness to have a vaccine. They will make the decision after talking to the parent or guardian and examining the child if necessary.

Babies with diarrhoea or vomiting should not be given the rotavirus vaccine until after they have recovered.

Childhood vaccination side-effects

Like all medicines, no vaccine is totally free from side-effects. However, some parents focus on the side effects of the vaccines, instead of the diseases your child is protected against. Most children given vaccines do not experience any side-effects. In those that do the most commonly experienced side effects are mild and short-lived.

The risk of serious complications from the vaccines is extremely rare and much lower than the potential risks if your child falls ill with one of the diseases. Allergic reactions to the vaccines are very rare. Anyone who is trained to administer vaccines is also trained in how to deal with allergic reactions and children recover completely with treatment.

The most common side-effects of most vaccines are some mild tenderness, redness or swelling at the injection site and a high temperature (fever). Your child may also feel a bit sleepy, irritable or less hungry than usual.

Other common side-effects of particular injections include:

  • The six-in-one vaccine: common side-effects only seem to occur in 1 in 10 babies and can include pain and swelling at the injection site, fever (more common after the second or third dose), vomiting, excess crying, irritability and loss of appetite.

  • Meningitis B: this vaccine often causes a fever when it's given alongside the other routine baby vaccinations. Your nurse will recommend that you give your baby paracetamol after having their two and four month immunisations to reduce the risk of this. The paracetamol will also reduce any pain or tenderness at the injection site.

  • Rotavirus: the most common side effects associated with the rotavirus vaccine are irritability, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, wind and skin inflammation (dermatitis). Babies who have had this vaccination are known to excrete the virus in their stools after the vaccination for at least 14 days. People looking after a child who has recently been vaccinated should make sure they wash their hands after changing the child's nappies.

  • MMR: this vaccine may cause a brief reaction that can begin from a few days to three weeks after vaccination. Your child may get mild symptoms like the diseases that are being vaccinated against, eg cold, skin reaction, fever or swollen salivary glands. Your child will not be contagious. Detailed and exhaustive research over the past few years has demonstrated that there is no link between the MMR jab and Crohn's disease or autism.

  • HPV: the most common side effects associated with the HPV vaccine are pain, redness and swelling at the injection site. Other common side effects may include headache, aching muscles or joints, fever, dizziness, skin irritation or an upset stomach.

  • Meningitis ACWY: the most common side effects associated with meningitis ACWY vaccine in adolescents include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, headache, aching muscles and feeling sick or generally unwell.

  • Nasal spray flu: this vaccine has very few side effects; the most common is a runny nose for a short time.

If your child gets a fever after having a vaccine and they seem uncomfortable, you can give them a dose of paracetamol (eg Calpol) to relieve this. Always follow the instructions given by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist for how much to give. Rare reactions to vaccines do exist including allergic reactions but medical staff running a clinic are trained to deal with this.

How long do child vaccinations last?

After fully completing the programme, your child will be protected from the following:

✔️ Diphtheria, and polio: for at least 10 years, or possibly longer.

✔️ Whooping cough (pertussis): for at least three years. However, whooping cough is still being studied. If those who have been vaccinated do get the disease in later life, it's a milder version.

✔️ Tetanus: life-long protection.

✔️ Hepatitis B: for at least 20 to 30 years.

✔️ Measles, mumps and rubella (German measles): two doses of the vaccine would appear to offer long-lasting protection that is very probably lifelong.

✔️ Meningitis: Bacterial meningitis most commonly affects children under five years of age, particularly babies under the age of one. It's also common among teenagers aged 15 to 19. The meningitis vaccines are timed to protect children and young adults during these more vulnerable times. At the moment we don't know how long the protection lasts for.

✔️ Cervical cancer and genital warts: studies show that cervical cancer and genital warts protection lasts for at least seven years. Further studies are ongoing to establish if a booster will be needed.

✔️ Rotavirus gastroenteritis: it is not yet known, but clinical trials have shown two doses of the rotavirus vaccine protect for at least two years.

✔️ Influenza (flu): the flu vaccination needs to be repeated every year.

❗ For more information on the UK vaccination and immunisation schedule visit NHS vaccinations.

Last updated: 26-11-2020

You Might Also Like