Vaccination is the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and our children against ill health. Vaccines prevent up to 3 million deaths worldwide every year. Since vaccines were introduced in the UK, diseases like smallpox, polio and tetanus that used to kill or disable millions of people are either gone or seen very rarely. Other diseases like measles and diphtheria have been reduced by up to 99.9% since their vaccines were introduced.

However, if people stop having vaccines, it’s possible for infectious diseases to quickly spread again.

Be aware that anti-vaccine stories are spread online through social media. They may not be based on scientific evidence and could put your child at risk of a serious illness.

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.

Having a vaccine also benefits your whole community through “herd immunity”. If enough people are vaccinated, it’s harder for the disease to spread to those people who cannot have vaccines. For example, people who are ill or have a weakened immune system.

Why vaccines are safe

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).

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 2 to 3 days
  • babies or young children feeling a bit unwell or developing a high temperature for 1 or 2 days

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

Allergic reactions

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 will be trained to deal with allergic reactions and treat them immediately. With prompt treatment, you or your child will make a good recovery.

Vaccines Do:

  • protect you and your child from many serious and potentially deadly diseases
  • protect other people in your community – by helping to stop diseases spreading to people who cannot have vaccines
  • get safety tested for years before being introduced – they’re also monitored for any side effects
  • sometimes cause mild side effects that will not last long – some children may feel a bit unwell and have a sore arm for 2 or 3 days
  • reduce or even get rid of some diseases – if enough people are vaccinated

Vaccines Don’t:

  • do not cause autism – studies have found no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism
  • do not overload or weaken the immune system – it’s safe to give children several vaccines at a time and this reduces the number of injections they need
  • do not contain mercury (thiomersal)
  • do not contain any ingredients that cause harm in such small amounts – but do speak to your doctor if you have any known allergies such as eggs or gelatine or, you have had any serious reactions to vaccines previously.

NHS vaccination schedule

8 weeks

6-in-1 vaccine

Rotavirus vaccine


12 weeks

6-in-1 vaccine (2nd dose)

Pneumococcal (PCV) vaccine

Rotavirus vaccine (2nd dose)

16 weeks

6-in-1 vaccine (3rd dose)

MenB (2nd dose)

1 year

Hib/MenC (1st dose)

MMR (1st dose)

Pneumococcal (PCV) vaccine (2nd dose)

MenB (3rd dose)

2 to 10 years

Flu vaccine (every year)

3 years and 4 months

MMR (2nd dose)

4-in-1 pre-school booster

5 to 15 years

COVID-19 vaccine (1st and 2nd dose)

12 to 13 years

HPV vaccine

14 years

3-in-1 teenage booster


16 years and over

COVID-19 vaccine (1st, 2nd and booster doses)

50 years

Flu vaccine (and every year after)

65 years

Pneumococcal (PPV) vaccine

Flu vaccine (and every year after)

70 years

Shingles vaccine

Pregnant Women

Flu vaccine – During flu season

From 16 weeks pregnant – Whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine

If you’re starting college or university you should make sure you’ve already had:

  • the MenACWY vaccine – which protects against serious infections like meningitis. You can still ask your GP for this vaccine until your 25th birthday
  • 2 doses of the MMR vaccine – as there are outbreaks of mumps and measles at universities. If you have not previously had 2 doses of MMR, you can still ask your GP for the vaccine

Extra vaccines for those at-risk:

If you have an underlying health condition and are identified as being ‘at-risk’ you may be offered extra vaccines as protection. If you are unsure which vaccines are recommended for you, speak to your GP.

If you have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, or you are now eligible you should be invited to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Speak to your GP surgery if:

  • you think you or your child have missed, or not been invited for any vaccinations
  • you or your child have a vaccination appointment, but you’ve missed it or cannot attend

They can book or rearrange the next available appointment.

It’s best to have vaccines on time but you can still catch up on most vaccines if you miss them.