Childhood Immunisation Programme

Childhood Immunisation Programme

What is the Childhood Immunisation Programme?

Children and young people in Ireland are entitled to certain vaccinations and immunisation services free of charge under the Childhood Immunisation Programme. Vaccination is a safe and effective way to help the body prevent or fight off certain diseases.

While not mandatory in Ireland, vaccination is strongly advised by the health authorities. Parental consent is required for administration of vaccinations to children and young people up to the age of 16.

Recommendations on Ireland’s vaccination schemes are drawn up by a group from the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, which represents doctors from all the relevant branches of medicine. This group revises the recommendations every few years to allow for the introduction of new vaccines to Ireland and to keep abreast of changes in the patterns of disease.

What will my child be immunised against?

It is recommended that children be immunised against tuberculosis, diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), pertussis (whooping cough), haemophilus influenza B (Hib), polio, meningitis C, mumps, measles and rubella (German measles). These are all covered under the Childhood Immunisation and school booster programmes.

When should my child be immunised?

Under the Childhood Immunisation Programme, the following vaccinations are given free of charge, by your GP/family doctor:

  • At birth: The BCG vaccination (which protects against tuberculosis) is normally administered in the maternity hospital where the child is born, but is recommended within the first month of life.
  • At 2 months: The first of three vaccinations against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), polio, hepatitis B and HiB (Haemophilus Influenzae Type B) is provided in one single injection (the “6 in 1”).The first of two pneumococcal conjugate vaccines is also administered.
  • At 4 months: The second of three "6 in 1" injections is given. The first of two meningococcal C vaccines is provided. 
  • At 6 months: The third of three "6 in 1" injections is given. The second of two pneumococcal conjugate vaccines and the second of two meningococcal C vaccines are administered.
  • At 12 months: The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, and the pneumococcus (PCV) vaccine are administered.
  • At 13 months: The Hib booster and meningococcal C vaccines are given.

School Booster Programme

  • At 4-5 years: Your child should receive a booster injection for continued protection against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio (these are administered together as a 4 in 1 vaccine). An MMR booster is also given at this age.
  • At 12-14 years: Children should be given a tetanus and low dose diphtheria vaccine.

The vaccinations in the school booster programme are also available free of charge and usually administered in schools by your HSE Area.

Please note that the national childhood immunisation scheme changed for children born after July 1, 2008. Children born prior to July 1 who had started their schedule before September 2008 continue with the older scheme.

However, there is a catch-up campaign for the pneumococcal vaccine for all children born between September 2, 2006 to June 30, 2008.

If you have young children it is important to get advice from your GP about what vaccines your child should be receiving, particularly in light of the recent changes and the catch-up campaign.

How are the vaccines administered?

All vaccinations are given with a small needle into the upper arm, thigh or buttock. Children may cry and be upset for a few minutes, but they usually settle down. If you don't want to be in the room when your child has the injection, tell the nurse or doctor beforehand. Some parents find it helpful to take a friend or partner to hold the child during the injection.

The four-in-one, five-in-one and six-in-one vaccines

Children used to be given an injection combining 3 vaccinations at 2, 4 and 6 months – the DTP vaccination, which protected them against diptheria, tetanus and pertussis. They were given this together with a separate vaccination for Hib and an oral vaccination for polio. In 2001, the oral polio vaccine was replaced by an injection called Inactivated Polio Vaccine (IPV), which was incorporated into the DTP, giving a 4-in-1 injection. This was further combined with the Hib vaccine to create a 5-in-1, and then with the Hepatitis B vaccine to create a 6-in-1. 

These vaccines lose none of their efficacy by being mixed in this way. It means your child will only need to receive two injections on each visit to the doctor.

The vaccines are not routinely available in separate doses in Ireland. According to the Irish Medicines Board, while licences have been issued for separate vaccines, they are not available from pharmaceutical companies here.

Does the six-in-one vaccine contain mercury?

Some people have expressed concern about the presence of mercury in vaccines, as they believe it to be linked to conditions such as autism. However the Department of Health insists that there is no evidence of such a link.

Previously vaccines contained a mercury-based preservative known as thiomersal. However the six-in-one does not contain mercury as a preservative.

According to the Irish Medicines Board, which is responsible for the licensing and safety of medicines in Ireland, there are 'trace amounts' of mercury in the six-in-one. However these are 'below levels of detection...and have no biological effect', therefore the vaccine 'should be considered to be mercury-free'.

Find out more about vaccinations and how they work's unique Child Immunisation Tracker Service will alert you to the vaccinations that your children need as they grow. Access the Child Immunisation Tracker here

Reviewed: June, 2010

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