Vaccinations play an essential role in healthcare, but what is a vaccine and when should your child be getting them?

Childhood Vaccination

Types of Vaccines

A vaccine is a substance that can teach the immune system to make antibodies against a specific disease. Once our immune systems know how to do this, they can protect us if we’re ever exposed to the infection.

Vaccinations can be divided into two main types:

  • Live vaccines contain harmless, weakened forms of the bacteria or virus that causes the infection.

  • Inactivated vaccines contain dead viruses or inactive parts of bacteria or viruses.

Many different kinds of live and inactive vaccines are available that can protect your child against different infections. The most important ones are included in the routine childhood vaccination schedule.

Routine Childhood Vaccine Schedule in the UK

The routine immunisation schedule sets out which vaccines should be offered to children in the UK and when they should have them. The schedule has changed over time, so the vaccinations that are offered today may not be the same as the ones that you had as a child. Many of the vaccines are combined into one shot in order to reduce the number of injections that your child has to get.

  • 8 weeks: four injections for Meningitis B (MenB), Pneumococcal, rotavirus, and the combined shot against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), polio, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) and hepatitis B.

  • 12 weeks: two shots, one for rotavirus and the other as combined vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Hib and hepatitis B

  • 16 weeks: three injections for Men B, pneumococcal and a combined shot for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Hib and hepatitis B

  • 1 year: four shots for MenB, pneumococcal, a combined shot for Hib and Meningitis C (MenC), and the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella

  • 3 years and 4 months: another dose of MMR and a combined shot for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio

  • Girls aged 12-13: two doses of the HPV vaccine, given 6-24 months apart (boys can have this vaccine privately)

  • 14 years: Meningococcal vaccine and combined shot for tetanus, diphtheria and polio

Other Vaccines Your Child Can Have

In addition to the routine vaccinations that are offered to all children in the UK, you may want to consider some extra shots depending on your family circumstances. For example:

  • BCG vaccination to protect against certain forms of tuberculosis (TB) if your child is travelling to countries where this condition is more common or comes into contact with people from those areas (such as visiting family members)

  • Chicken pox vaccination isn’t routinely offered in the UK, but you can arrange a private vaccination to protect your child

  • Travel vaccines may be needed if you’re taking your child to certain parts of the world
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