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Immunisation - keeping safe from diseases

immunisation; vaccination; needles; shots; injection; infectious diseases; immunise; vaccine; germ; virus; toxin; bacteria; immune system; measles; polio; tetanus; diphtheria; small pox; chicken pox; rubella; mumps; flu ;


Immunisation - vaccination - injection?

Question: Do these words all mean the same thing?
Answer: Not quite.

a germImmunisation (say im-you-ny-zay-shun) means putting a special type of substance (a vaccine) into your body so that your body can learn how to fight an infection. That way, you will be protected (or immune) from getting sick if someone around you has the germs for that infection. There are immunisations for many different infections, including some rather nasty ones. Immunisation is an easy and very safe way of protecting you. Many immunisations are given as an injection (by a needle in your arm or leg) or sometimes as a medicine that you drink.

Vaccination means pretty much the same thing as immunisation - getting a vaccine (usually by injection) that will help your body to protect itself from an infection in the future.

Injection means the act of sticking a needle into your body, usually just under the skin or into a muscle, and squirting in a small amount of liquid. Most immunisations involve an injection given by a doctor or nurse in the arm or leg, where there is plenty of flesh and it won't hurt too much. Of course, injections are not just for immunisations - doctors give patients injections of other things, like antibiotics, and some people give themselves medicines by injection (e.g. people with diabetes may inject themselves with insulin several times each day). Often people say they are getting their 'shots'.

ugh! measlesA vaccine is a fluid that helps your body to become immune to a disease caused by certain germs. The vaccine contains some part of the germ or the poison that the germ makes, but the vaccine does not make you sick - it helps your body to protect itself from getting sick in the future.

Some vaccines contain a living virus that has been changed so that you don't get sick (like the measles vaccine), or it might contain parts of germs (like meningococcal bacteria), or even bits of a poison (called a toxin) like the toxin made by tetanus bacteria.

Medical scientists study diseases and work out ways of killing the germs which cause them, Then they can try to make vaccines.

Your body's immune system will recognise that these vaccines do not belong in your body, and will work out how to get rid of them - so that if the germs get into your body your immune system is ready to kill the germs quickly before they can make you sick!

For some diseases, you will need a few doses of the vaccine - each time you have the same vaccine, your immune system will get better at removing the germs or poisons.

About immunisation

coffinIn the not-so-olden days, many young children got sick and died. Some families lost two, or three, or even more children in a few days, due to a disease called diphtheria. Many children were paralysed by another disease called polio.

About 60 years ago, when clever doctors and scientists discovered new vaccines for some of these nasty diseases, countries like Australia started immunisation programs to protect their children.


Nowadays so many children are being immunised that some diseases are very rare, and maybe will vanish altogether in years to come.

It's important for you to have your immunisations, and not just for your own protection. The immunisations stop you from getting sick, which also means that you can't spread the infection to someone else who isn't immunised, such as a small baby (eg. by coughing whooping cough germs on them).

What happens?

The first immunisation happens when you are a little baby, so you will not remember it. You probably had your first immunisation when you were about 2 months old, but now babies are getting their first immunisation (against hepatitis B) as soon as they are born!

If you are going to have an immunisation now that you are older, there is nothing to be scared of. An injection will usually be given in your arm, near your shoulder. It does hurt a little bit, but it will be very quick. If you can relax your muscles it does not hurt as much.

What some kids said about immunisations

"It's best if you don’t look – then you don’t start to get worried."  Mark

"I was really scared but it was so quick that I didn't know it was done." Anna

"I just cuddled my teddy and it only hurt a little bit." Kerri-Anne

immunisation "My arm felt a bit hot later but mum gave me a cool face washer to put on it and a paracetamol tablet when I went to bed and I was okay the next day." Mia

"I think I felt the good germs going in to help my body fight the bad ones." David

"You should not be scared when you're getting an injection. It is only a little prick and it's all over. Sometimes you get a lolly for being good." Steph

"My grandma had polio when she was little. She had a bad leg when she grew up and couldn’t walk very fast." Alex

Did you know?

  • Thousands of children all over the world used to get polio. This is an awful disease - some of the children who got it could not walk again. A clever doctor found out how to make a vaccine that would stop kids getting polio. The World Health Organisation has been working in countries all over the world to stop anyone ever having polio again. They even stopped a war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for 3 days so that all the children could have the vaccine. Hopefully soon no one in the world will get polio again.
  • More people have died from diseases like measles than ever were killed in wars.
  • chicken -- poxMeasles, smallpox and other diseases that traders and settlers brought to Australia killed more Australian Aborigines than were killed in any other way. They died because their bodies had no immunity to those diseases.
  • You can now be vaccinated against having chickenpox when you are 18 months old, or later when you are in Year 8.
  • All children have immunisations against measles, mumps and rubella when they are 12 months old, and when they are 18 months old or just before they start school. Measles makes people very ill, mumps gives people swollen glands and a very bad headache, and rubella can harm an unborn baby, causing it to be blind or deaf.
  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) can be passed from one person to another during sex (a sexually transmitted infection). It can cause cancer in some women. Girls now get free immunisation against HPV when they are about 13 years old.
  • Whooping cough is happening a lot in Australia. It is very dangerous for young babies. Babies, children and adults can be vaccinated agains getting this disease which affects breathing and is contagious (con-tay-jus) - easily passsed on to others. You can now be immunised against it.

Travel immunisations

airport farewellLots of people travel to other countries by plane, so infections like the flu can quickly spread from one country to another.

immunisationIn some countries there are a lot of diseases that you could catch. If you and your family are going to travel, it is a good idea to find out what diseases may be in that country and see your doctor about immunisation against those diseases.

Many times you don't need to have extra immunisations, as most countries have immunisation programs to keep their people and their visitors safe from harmful germs.

Where can you get your immunisations?

Your family doctor can give you all the immunisations that you need. In South Australia your local council also runs immunisation clinics - a parent or caregiver would need to ring your council to find out when the next clinic is being held. The immunisations are free when done in a council clinic. 

If your parent or caregiver want to know more they could look at the topic 'Immunisation' on the parent's part of this site.

Dr Kim says:

Dr Kim

"A bit of a sore arm for a little while is a lot better than getting a disease that could change your whole life. You can be part of stopping diseases that have killed many millions of children over the years and keep yourself safe as well. How? Just by getting your shots".

 The World Health Organisation website has information about diseases in different countries and what is being done to help people. You can check it out by visiting 

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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