What is the difference between immunisation and vaccination?

Immunisation and Vaccination are often used interchangeably, however, there are some differences in the meaning of these two words. When a person is vaccinated their body mounts an immune response. This immune response, which allows immune cells to recognise and inactivate infectious pathogens, is the process of immunisation.

Vaccination takes several forms, including oral vaccines or injections. The material used in a vaccine can either be an attenuated virus (live but weakened), small parts of a bacteria, a bacteria or virus that is not live, or a modified toxin produced by bacteria.

When a person receives a vaccine (Vaccination), it allows their immune system to prepare to fight infectious diseases (Immunisation).

How does immunisation work?

There are several types of vaccine, however all work in a similar way. Some vaccines contain a one small part of the pathogen (the entity that causes disease), while others contain a weakened form. When given vaccine the body produces an immune response in the same way it would for the real pathogen. During this process memory cells are created that remember how to protect the body from that specific invader. Therefore, when an individual encounters the real pathogen the body is already prepared to defend. If the person is not immunised they may get sick because the body is not prepared to fight off the infection.


What do they put into vaccines?

There are many types of vaccine:

  1. Live attenuated: These are made with a weakened version of the pathogen
  2. Inactivate: these are with from dead pathogens
  3. Subunit/conjugate: these are made with a small part of the pathogen
  4. Toxoid: These are made with deactivated bacterial toxins

In addition to the pathogen based ingredient some vaccines also have an adjuvants. These are used to enhance the immune system response. Antibiotics are sometimes added to prevent contamination during the manufacturing process; along with preservatives and stabilizers.

When do I need to immunise my child?

The National Immunisation Program Schedule displays all of the vaccines needed in childhood for the best protection. Note that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the schedule is a bit different. Click on the link below for the latest version of the schedule:


Why should I immunise my child?

Immunisation is the safest and most effective way to give protection against harmful diseases. The benefit of protection far outweighs the very small risks of immunisation. If enough people in the community are immunised infections can no longer spread and the disease dies out altogether.

How long after the vaccination is an individual protected?

In general, a vaccine will take seven weeks provide immunity. Therefore, an individual will not be protected immediately after receiving a vaccine. There are even some people that do not respond to a vaccine. For example, the whooping cough vaccine only protects 85% of children that complete the course. The other 15% rely on the protection from others in the community who do become immune.  Some vaccines also need multiple administrations to help build immunity. It is important to follow the immunisation schedule to make sure your child is getting the correct number of doses for a particular vaccine. Most immunisations do not provide lifelong protection. For this reason, there are booster vaccines that can be given later in life.

What are the side effects of vaccination?

The most common side effect of a vaccine is redness and soreness at the injection site. A low-grade fever may also present because the immune system is being activated. Serious side effects like anaphylaxis do occur but are very rare but it is important to contact a doctor immediately if you are worried.

Do I need vaccinations for my holiday?

Some infectious diseases are more prevalent in other countries. Therefore it is important to get advice from a GP regarding any extra vaccinations you might need when going on holiday. This should occur about 6 weeks before the holiday is planned to ensure protection. There are different recommendations depending on the area that you visit.

For more information please refer to the World Health Organisation’s information regarding international travel and health: http://www.who.int/ith/en/

What is herd immunity?

This is a term used to describe community immunity to a disease. If enough people are immunised the infection cannot spread. This protects the whole community and especially the elderly and very young who may not be immune. 95% of the community needs to be immunised in order to achieve this status of herd immunity. If vaccination rates drop breakouts of the disease will occur and spread through the community.


So apart from children, who else needs to be immunised?

Patents and grandparents should also be up to date with their immunisations. In addition, anyone who is going to come in contact with a young child. For advice regarding adult vaccinations see your GP so that your new baby is protected. Travelers should also get regional vaccines depending on where they are traveling.

It is important for the elderly to receive the flu vaccine yearly because they are more susceptible to serious illness. Additionally, a shingles vaccine is recommended for persons between 70 and 79 years of age. The shingles vaccine is free for persons aged 70 years old, additionally, a catch-up program is operating until 30 October 2021, providing a free shingles vaccine to those aged between 71 and 79.