Immunisations are a really important part of preventing a range of childhood illnesses - some of which can be serious. These include things like tetanus, polio, measles and meningitis.
Since the start of the UK childhood immunisation programme in the 1940s, we have seen a significant drop in cases of several conditions and their complications. It’s also saved a countless number of lives.
The actual schedule in the UK has changed over the years. This is because of changing patterns of disease, learning from research and experience with existing vaccines, and also the introduction of new vaccines. It is important that these changes happen so that we keep up with latest developments and make sure our programme offers the best protection.
So this year, the UK immunisation schedule for children has undergone three big changes and parents need to be aware - to avoid any confusion and make sure that their children are protected.
1. Firstly, we have the addition of a new vaccine called the ROTAVIRUS vaccine which is offered to all children at two and three months’ age. This vaccine is given by mouth and helps protect against rotavirus, which is the commonest cause of diarrhoea and vomiting in children. Although it usually self-limiting, rotavirus can make you quite unwell for a long time and can result in hospitalisation and even death in a small number of cases.
2. Secondly, we have the introduction of a new FLU vaccine, designed to help prevent flu in children and indirectly in adults. Flu is another common illness that is more than ‘just a cold’ and can have serious complications. This programme was initiated in September and is currently being offered to all children aged 2 and 3 years as a starting point. Eventually it will be offered to all children between the ages of 2 and 16 years. It is in the form of a nasal spray and will need to be given every year as the vaccine has to adapt to natural changes in the flu virus. If the spray is unsuitable, then the injection form will be offered instead.
3. Finally, the MENINGITIS C vaccine schedule has changed. Instead of an injection at 3 months’ and 4 months’ age, children will be offered it at 3 months and then at around 14 years. This vaccine helps protect against one type of bacterial meningitis, which is a very serious illness, and moving the second dose to teenage years will mean better protection for this group. In future we may have a meningitis B vaccine too which will help combat the biggest cause of serious meningitis at the moment
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusing and misleading advice about vaccinations, especially on the internet. Please be careful and make sure you base your decisions on accurate and approved information. Please visit the Public Health England or NHS Choices websites for up-to-date advice, or speak to your doctor or nurse for further information.