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Immunisation is one of those health areas that teenagers might like to forget about. Maybe you thought it was all over and done with by the time you hit secondary school.
Wrong! There are some immunisations that are recommended for all teenagers, and some others that may be important if you plan to travel.
Immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting yourself against some diseases which can cause serious illnesses and sometimes death. Also, if you are protected, you will not be able to pass the infection on to other people, especially very young babies who are not yet fully immunised.
For more information about each of these infections, have a look at the topics on the Parenting and Child Health section of this site.
When to immunise for what?
There are several immunisations that are recommended in Australia for people in Year 8 and Year 9. 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 service.
- If you have not been already immunised against hepatitis B, it is recommended that all young Australians be immunised between 10 and 13 years of age.
- Two injections are needed. If, for some reason, you don’t get the second dose on time, get it as soon as you can. It will still work well.
- These immunisations are free for you (they are paid for by the Australian Government).
Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)
- You will have had several DTP immunisations already, but you need an extra (booster) injection when you are 15 to 17 years old.
- This immunisation is also free.
If you have not had a chicken pox vaccination or had the illness, then it is recommended that you have the vaccine in Year 8.
Other immunisations that can be given to teenagers
- Swine Flu
- In 2009 the Australian government funded free 'swine flu' (H1N1 influenza) vaccine for all Australians. For more information have a look at http://www.flu.sa.gov.au/
- 'Seasonal' Influenza
- Every year there is an outbreak of influenza during winter in South Australia. Influenza is a serious illness and can lead to a person being unwell and away from school or work for a week or more.
- Teenagers can be effectively immunised against influenza, but the immunisation is not free for teenagers. Currently the vaccine costs about $25.
- You might consider immunisation if being ill would be a problem for you (in Year 12 for example). It is safe and effective.
- For more information have a look at http://www.flu.sa.gov.au/
- HPV and cervical cancer (Gardasil®)
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 young women, but others (including young men) can be immunised. The vaccine will cost about $500 for a course, which can be provided by your family doctor.
Have you had your other immunisations?
Check with your parents to make sure that you have been immunised against measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and polio and all the other immunisations that children get. If not, you can be immunised against these at any age. It is never too late to start immunisation.
Young children are immunised against Hib (Haemophilus influenza type B), but teenagers do not need to be immunised against Hib, even if they did not get this immunisation as a baby.
As well as the information on the Parenting and Child Health section of this site, there is a government site which has a huge amount of immunisation information. See the ‘Immunise Australia' web site:
Are you 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.
- 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.
Hepatitis A is common in many countries, so it wise to consider having hepatitis A immunisation if you are travelling overseas.
Also, if you are going to countries where there is a risk of malaria, take care to prevent mosquito bites. Insect repellents are very important, and you may need some other protection (such as tablets) as well.
If you feel sick or have any health problems after returning from an overseas trip, be sure to see a doctor to check out the symptoms and get health care. Remember to tell the doctor exactly where you have travelled.
As well as these safeguards, you need to consider immunisation. What you need depends on where you live normally and where you are going.
- Some places require you to be immunised against certain diseases to protect the people in the country you are visiting.
- For other countries, you need to be immunised so that you don't catch illnesses (eg. Yellow Fever) that may be common there, but not in your own country.
Contact your doctor. Sometimes you may need to see someone who is an expert in travel medicine.
- It is best to be vaccinated at least 6 to 12 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 it is too late.
- It may be worthwhile updating some vaccinations that you already have had - check with your doctor.
For more information about illnesses and immunisation have a look at the Australian Immunisation Handbook, 9th Edition, 2008
- Visit a doctor.
- Get immunised at school - many schools have immunisation days.
- Some Councils and community health centres have immunisation services - ring your local council to find what services they provide.
Reactions to immunisation
You can have a reaction to being immunised, and it will be different depending on what vaccine you have. Remember though, that serious reactions to vaccines are very rare, while not being immunised can leave you at risk of getting serious illnesses (sometimes with lifelong health problems).
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 feverish for a while.
If you have any worries, see your doctor.
Frequently asked questions
Some people are worried about possible harm that might be caused by immunisations. ‘Immunise Australia’ has on its internet site 'Frequently asked questions' which may be of use if you have concerns.
“Anyone who’s walked round a graveyard as part of a history project soon realises that in the ‘olden days’, lots of kids never grew up to be adults. Lots of adults didn’t last long either. Since kids have been immunised, some diseases have vanished altogether in Australia, and others are not the killers that they used to be. Sure, it stings a bit at the time, but it’s only for a few seconds and if you feel whoozy at the thought of it, then don’t look and sit down!”
Australian Government Immunisation Website:
This site has the latest information about immunisation, schedules, specific health problems, plus many publications, including the Immunisation Handbook, Immunisation Myths and Realities, and instructions for immunisation providers.
Australian Immunisation Handbook 9th edition, 2008.
Australian Smart Traveller (Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT):
Travelling well (DFAT):
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).