Vaccinations: why it’s important to keep your child up to date

Written by: Dr Martin Gray
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Vaccinations protect your child from diseases such as tetanus, Hepatitis B and measles amongst many others, and also keep your little one safe by stopping or decreasing the chances of these diseases spreading to other children.

Whilst the topic of vaccinations may be generating controversy recently, we turned to one of our expert paediatricians Dr Martin Gray to learn more about the importance of childhood vaccinations and how safe they really are.



Why are childhood vaccinations so important?

We often develop lifelong immunity when we have had a disease. However, some diseases may lead to serious complications and sometimes death. Vaccination aims to obtain this immunity without any of the risks of having the disease.

When we vaccinate, we activate the immune system's "memory." During vaccination, a weakened microbe, a fragment, or something that resembles it, is added to the body. Activation of the immune system happens without us becoming sick. Vaccination can prevent dangerous infectious diseases in a simple and effective way.

Which vaccines do children need and at what age?

The recommended vaccination programme for children and adolescents includes vaccines against 12 different diseases:

  • Rotavirus
  • Diphtheria
  • Tetanus
  • Whooping cough
  • Poliomyelitis
  • Infection with Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Pneumococcal disease
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) - which can cause cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV.

Some children are also offered vaccination against tuberculosis. All these diseases can be life-threatening or result in serious complications. Vaccination usually begins when a child is six weeks old. Since several of the diseases vaccinated against affect the youngest children the hardest, parents should avoid delay. Booster doses are given when a child reaches school age.

How can I find out if my child is up to date with their vaccinations?

Your child will have been given a personal health record or 'red book'. Vaccination history is recorded by your doctor or health visitor in there. If you have missing or delayed vaccination doses, your child needs to catch up for full protection. The UK vaccination schedule is published here. If your child has outstanding vaccinations, please contact us for an appointment or see your GP or health visitor.

Will my child need a booster shot later in life?

For some diseases, vaccination provides lifelong protection, while for others the effect is diminished after a few years, and booster doses are required.

My child missed a vaccine at school; what do I need to do?

If your child has outstanding vaccinations, please contact us for an appointment or see your GP or health visitor.

What if I would like vaccinations that are not in the UK schedule?

We can arrange vaccinations that are not on the UK schedule. If you are travelling and need specific protection or if you would like to know more about protection against influenza or chickenpox (varicella) for your child, please make an appointment with us.

How do I know vaccines are safe for my child?

All vaccines are thoroughly tested to make sure they will not harm you or your child. It often takes many years for a vaccine to make it through the trials and tests it needs to pass for approval.

Once a vaccine is being used in the UK, it's also monitored for any rare side effects by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Vaccines teach your immune system how to create antibodies that protect you from diseases. It's much safer for your immune system to learn this through vaccination than by catching the diseases and treating them. Once your immune system knows how to fight a disease, it can often protect you for many years.

What are the possible side effects of vaccination?

Most of the side effects of vaccination are mild and do not last long. The most common side effects of vaccination include:

  • the area where the needle goes in looking red, swollen and feeling a bit sore for two to three days.
  • Babies or young children feeling a bit unwell or developing a high temperature for one or two days.

Some children might also cry and be upset immediately after the injection. This is normal, and they should feel better after a cuddle.

It's rare for anyone to have a serious allergic reaction to a vaccination. If this does happen, it usually happens within minutes. The person who vaccinates you or your child is trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately. With prompt treatment, you or your child will make a good recovery.

You can book an appointment for your child to see Dr Gray via his Top Doctor’s profile here

By Dr Martin Gray

Dr Martin Gray is a leading consultant pediatric intensivist based in London at Bright Futures , Chiswick Medical Center. He is trained and experienced in all aspects of pediatric critical care medicine and specializes in treating critically ill children with trauma , childhood cancer , infectious diseases , respiratory failureendocrinology , gastroenterology and  neurological problems. He practices in the NHS where he provides specialist pediatric intensive care that looks after children with cancer, congenital heart disease and neurological and neurosurgical problems.

Dr Gray trained in paediatric medicine and paediatric critical care in the UK and Australia and completed a three-year fellowship in paediatric critical care at Sick Kids Hospital, Toronto. His first senior position was as Assistant Professor at McMaster University Canada where he joined the paediatric critical care team. As a Paediatric Intensive Care Consultant at St George’s Hospital, he led on the development and expansion of the paediatric intensive care unit there working with the team to deliver excellent outcomes for children with cancer who require intensive care.

Dr Gray has an interest in Clinical Informatics and a Founding Fellow of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics. He was appointed St George's first Chief Clinical Information Officer in 2013 and saw the hospital become the second in the UK to reach HIMMS stage 6 for digital maturity.

Dr Gray continues to work in paediatric critical care medicine working at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and The Royal Brompton Hospital. 

Dr Gray is and advocate for preventative paediatric healthcare and is pioneering the introduction of the American Academy of Pediatrics Bright Futures child health surveillance programme in the United Kingdom. At Bright Futures, Dr Martin Gray works alongside Dr Margarita Burmester where they provide paediatric primary care, child health surveillance and preventative care.

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