What is immunisation

Immunisation is one of the most effective strategies to protect children and adults against certain diseases with various immunisation programs available in South Australia. Immunisation not only protects individuals, but also others in our community by increasing the level of immunity and minimising the spread of disease. When a large percentage of people in the population are immunised against a specific disease, it becomes harder for that disease to spread. Immunisation uses the body’s natural defence mechanism – the immune response – to build resistance to infectious diseases. The benefits of immunisation far outweigh the risks from the diseases they seek to prevent.

Young children, particularly babies, do not have the well-developed immune system that older children and adults have. Most vaccinations need to be given more than once to build long lasting protection – this is why it is important for children to complete the full recommended schedule of vaccinations at the recommended times. Sometimes it is possible to ‘catch up’ if the vaccinations are not given on time. However, some immunisations like the rotavirus vaccine cannot be given later than the recommended time. Not getting the full course of vaccinations can leave a child unprotected and still at risk of getting the disease.

Whooping cough vaccine now available free for pregnant women in their third trimester. For more information see Whooping cough vaccine for pregnant women.

Protection against infectious diseases

There are many vaccines that protect against infectious diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria and whooping cough.In the pre-immunisation era these diseases were common and caused significant disability and death. With the advent of vaccination the occurrence of these illnesses are now either diminishing or are rare in countries that have strong immunisation programs, such as Australia. However is still vitally important for children and adults to be immunised. Vaccination ensures those diseases are not reintroduced or that serious outbreaks of those diseases do not occur.

Protection against non-infectious diseases

Immunisation also plays a role in protecting against certain non-infectious diseases. Research shows that certain viruses are associated with some types of cancers. Examples include the hepatitis B virus and its association with liver cancer, and the human papillomavirus (HPV) and its association with some cancers in the genital area. Vaccines for both hepatitis B virus and HPV are available. 

Special vaccination requirements

Although vaccination is safe for the vast majority of people there are some people who, for various reasons, may not be able to be vaccinated or who may not be able to receive certain vaccines e.g. allergies or current health status. It is important to discuss risks or side effects of vaccination with a health care professional before being immunised

If you identify with any of the following, you should talk to your doctor before being vaccinated. If you:

  • are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy
  • have previously had a serious adverse event following immunisation, or
  • have impaired immunity due to disease or treatment.

What to know before getting immunised

Your doctor or immunisation provider should discuss vaccine safety information (PDF 119KB) before you consent to being vaccinated. This includes discussing the:

  • effects of the disease
  • possible side effects of vaccination
  • what to do to reduce the side effects.

They will also ask you if you are unwell, pregnant, have any allergies or have previously had any reactions following any other vaccines as in some instances immunisation may need to be deferred or further medical assistance may be needed. Remember, you or your health professional can report vaccine reactions.

Where to get vaccinated

Not sure where to go to get vaccinated? See the Immunisation services page for a list of organisations that provide immunisations to you or your child.


Vaccines recommended for children and adults on the National Immunisation Program are available at no cost to people listed on a Medicare card.

Other vaccines may be recommended, but not free to other groups, for example, the vaccines recommended for specific occupations or prior to travel overseas.

Immunisation registers

Australian Childhood Immunisation Register

The Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (the Immunisation Register) is a national immunisation register that records details of vaccinations given to children who live in Australia. When your child is vaccinated, your doctor or immunisation nurse sends the vaccination information to the Immunisation Register.

If you have misplaced your child's vaccination details, you can contact the Immunisation Register and request a copy.

For more information about the Immunisation Register, see the Medicare Australia website.

National HPV Vaccination Program Register

A National HPV Vaccination Program Register (HPV Register) collects information of individuals vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV) to evaluate the impact of the HPV Vaccination Program. Letters are sent to males and females either advising their vaccine course is:

  • incomplete and further vaccines will be required to complete the course or
  • complete.

For more information, go to the National HPV Vaccination Program Register.

Further information

For more information about immunisations, contact your doctor, immunisation provider or SA Health's Immunisation Section (1300 232 272).

For further information for other Australian states or territories, contact the health department in that state or territory or the National Immunisation Program.

Useful links

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