Last year England became the first country in the world to offer a Meningitis B vaccination as part of its publically funded programme for children.

Research has shown that vaccination programmes help to eliminate potential lethal diseases, yet rare side-effects and controversial health reports have caused millions of parents to question whether they really are the right choice for their child.

NHS childhood vaccination schedule

Current schedule for childhood vaccinations and boosters:

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Does it matter if the vaccinations are given exactly on schedule?

When vaccinating your baby, it’s best to book the immunisations for their scheduled time as this offers maximum protection. However, if you do need to delay the vaccine because your child is unwell, or because of a holiday or family event, this won’t be a problem. Likewise, if necessary you can take your baby to be vaccinated a few days earlier than scheduled. The important part is that the vaccinations are given in the correct order and time apart.

How safe are these vaccinations?

All vaccinations included in the NHS programme have undergone rigorous testing before being offered to the public. Common side-effects, such as fever, rashes, and swelling around the injection site, are listed on the information leaflet provided with the vaccination. These side-effects are usually mild and short-lived.

In some very rare instances children can suffer more serious side-effects, usually as a previously unknown allergy to one of the ingredients used in the vaccine, such as egg. While the possibility of this reaction is worrying for parents, the risks associated with contracting one of the diseases in the vaccination programme are even more concerning.

In the past, concerns have been raised about the safety of the MMR vaccine following a study published by Dr Wakefield in 1998, which claimed that the vaccine may have links to autism. However, this research has since been thoroughly debunked by further scientific studies.

Can I opt for separate measles, mumps and rubella vaccines?

Single vaccinations for measles, mumps, and rubella were once offered privately in the UK for those families who are unsure about giving their child the MMR vaccine. This option is now only partly available due to a change in licencing. Now, you can only opt for either a single measles vaccine or a combination of measles and rubella. Single vaccines for mumps or rubella are no longer an option in the UK.

A list of doctors and clinics in Essex who offer a range of single vaccinations is available here.

Can I delay the MMR vaccine instead?

Some parents are choosing instead to delay giving their child the MMR vaccine until they are of pre-school or school age, but doctors have warned that this increases the likelihood of children contracting the diseases prior to vaccination. The issue here is that children may be put at increased risk without any obvious benefits.