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Immunisation is one of those health areas that can be neglected by adolescents and young people. Maybe you thought it was all over and done with by the time you hit the teenage years. Wrong! It is important to know when you need to be immunised.
For information about the immunisation program for young people in South Australia have a look at the National Immunisation Program South Australia.
For immunisation programs in other parts of Australia, see the National Immunisation Program Schedule
Immunisation is the term used for giving vaccines to prevent diseases. The aim is to make you immune to some diseases so that you do not get sick. You can't be immunised against all diseases, but immunisation can protect you against some serious illnesses. Vaccines that are given to young people in Australia are given by an injection. (Polio vaccine used to be given by mouth, but now that is also given by an injection.)
The vaccines used are often made up by using extracts from killed viruses and bacteria. Some are made from a live non-harmful form of a virus. When a person is injected with a vaccine, the body makes an immune response in the same way that it would for an infection, but the person does not get ill. The body then keeps proteins, called antibodies, circulating in the blood stream ready to fight the infection if the person is exposed to it. If the person comes into contact with the infection in the future, the body almost always makes an immune response fast enough to prevent the person getting sick.
immunise for what?
There are several immunisations that are recommended in Australia for people over 12. If you don't live in Australia, what you need depends on what you have already had, and where you live. Check with your doctor or local community health centre.
If you have lived in Australia from childhood it is likely that you have already been immunised against tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps and rubella. You need to check in case you missed some of them. All babies are now also being immunised against hepatitis B, Hib and meningococcal C, chicken pox and rotavirus gastro, but you may not have had these immunisations. Have a look at the topic 'Immunisation' on the parenting part of this site if you want to know more about what is recommended for children.
If you can't find out about what you have had, it is safer to have it again than to risk not having it. A double dose does not hurt you.
, rubella (MMR)
Measles mumps and rubella are all infections that can make you very sick. Children are given two measles, mumps and rubella injections, when they are 12 months old and 4 years old.
Some young people may not have had a second MMR (or even the first). It is important to check if you have had these two injections. If you haven't had one or both of these injections, it is recommended that you have one as soon as you can (the injection can be given to children and adults at any time except to a woman who is pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant soon).
When a woman is pregnant her blood may be tested to see if she is immune to rubella (if she has had the injections or had the infection), because getting rubella during a pregnancy can cause damage to a developing baby. If she is not immune to rubella, her doctor will usually recommend that she has an MMR injection after her baby is born. (See our topic 'Rubella' in the Parenting section of this site).
It is recommended that all people be immunised against hepatitis B.
In Australia, newborn babies, and students in Year 8 (who have not been immunised earlier) can receive free hepatitis B immunisation. Any person of any age can be immunised against hepatitis B by their doctor, but there may be a charge. Any person who was over 18 years of age in 2003 may not have been immunised at school.
Hepatitis B immunisation is recommended before travelling to many places in the world if you have not already been immunised, so if you are planning overseas travel you need to see your doctor well before you leave, to work out what immunisations you may need (see Travelling and immunisation below). See the topic 'Hepatitis B' for more information about this disease.
and whooping cough
Diphtheria and tetanus are rare now in Australia, but that is only because people have been immunised against them. In some countries where the immunisation programs have stopped (eg due to wars) these illnesses are happening much more often.
Whooping cough is still common in Australia, mainly because the effect of the whooping cough immunisation given to young children wears off during the teenage years. Many babies catch whooping cough from their parents!
Most children will have had 4 injections against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough before they started school. Check your record to make sure you have had these. To make sure that you are protected as an adult, you will need another injection against these three illnesses when you are in Year 9 at school.
The Australian Government has funded GARDASIL® immunisation under the National Immunisation Program, beginning in April 2007 for girls in Year 8. Gardasil protects against some types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) which are linked to cervical cancer.
The vaccines are free to these girls, but others (including young men) can be immunised. The vaccine may cost about $500 for a course, and can be provided by your family doctor. Have a look at the topic 'Human Papillomavirus (HPV) - Immunisation' for more information.
In 2009 the Australian Government provided free immunisation against the 'Swine flu' for all Australians.
There is another type of flu vaccine against 'seasonal flu' which is only free to some people, although it can be given to anyone of any age. For more information have a look at http://www.flu.sa.gov.au/
Going somewhere? Immunisations are important, but the most important thing to do to protect your health when travelling is to be very careful about what you eat and drink, and about road safety. For example, only drink water that has been boiled or which you know is safe. Eat only cooked food or food that you peel yourself.
Also take care to prevent malaria (which can be a very serious illness) - insect repellents are a very important part of protecting yourself against malaria, and you may need some other protection (such as tablets) as well.
As well as these safeguards you need to consider immunisation. What you need depends on where you usually live and where you are going. To find out if you need immunisation for the place you are going to, contact a doctor. (Your doctor may recommend you see someone who is an expert in travel medicine.)
You will need to be vaccinated at least two to four weeks before you depart (or longer if you need hepatitis B vaccination), so that the vaccines have time to work. If your decision to travel is made suddenly and you don't have much time, have them anyway, don't just assume that you are too late.
For travellers from Australia, the website of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 'Smartraveller' has a lot of very useful information.
These World Health Organisation (WHO) sites can provide extensive information:
Your own doctor is able to give you all these immunisations, but you may be able to get them from your school or local council.
You can have a reaction to being immunised, and it will be different depending on what vaccine you have. Ask your immunisation provider what to expect.
- You may have a sore place where the injection went in and this can be helped by putting a cold, wet towel on the sore part, or by taking some paracetamol.
- Some people with some vaccines feel a bit off colour or have a fever for a while.
If you have any worries, see your doctor. Remember, though, that serious negative reactions to vaccines are very, very rare, while not being immunised can leave you at risk of getting a serious illness (sometimes with lifelong health problems).
- Australian Government Immunise Australia Program Website:
This site has the latest information about immunisation, schedules, specific health problems (such as meningococcal C vaccination program), plus many publications including the Immunisation Hand Book, Immunisation Myths and Realities, and instructions for immunisation providers.
- Some people are concerned about possible harm that might be caused by immunisations, and possible alternatives to immunisation.
- Immunise Australia's Frequently asked questions may be of use if you have concerns.
Immunise Australia Program:
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).