It’s not fun but it’s a rite of passage that millions of children go through in the UK each year to help prevent the spread and development of many nasty diseases. In some cases, your baby or child may have some mild side-effects afterwards. This is very common and is often easily treated.

But before we dig into the side-effects of vaccines and how to treat them, let's first look at how vaccines work.

How do vaccines work?

Our bodies are always facing the possibility of war - a battle between our immune system and all the horrible diseases in this world. Vaccines work by producing antibodies to fight disease without actually infecting us with the disease' so that if we do ever come into contact with the disease, our immune system will immediately identify it and produce the antibodies we need to fight it.

Why are vaccinations important?

Vaccines are important because they reduce the number of cases from certain diseases. A long time ago, people used to have horrible side-effects (and sometimes die) from diseases that we have now largely eradicated thanks to the use of vaccines.

Vaccines work best when many people in a community have had them—creating something called herd immunity. If many people in a community have had the vaccine, the disease cannot spread very easily. This reduces the number of cases of the disease and helps to protect vulnerable members of our society (such as babies and people who are very sick). As more people in the community are vaccinated against a certain disease, it may eventually be eradicated completely (as with smallpox).

Why does my child need so many vaccines?

Dozens of different types of vaccines exist that work against different diseases. In the UK, healthy children are recommended to have a certain number of vaccines to help protect against various diseases as early in life as possible. These vaccines are all listed in the NHS vaccination schedule. To make it easier on parents, and so children need fewer jabs, some vaccines have been rolled up into one single shot, such as the 6-in-1 vaccine, which contains six different vaccines in one injection. 

Side-effects of vaccination

It is completely normal to be concerned that your child may have side-effects after vaccination. Though all vaccines have the potential to cause side-effects, most of those side-effects are mild and don't last very long. 

Common side effects of vaccination include: 

  • swelling and redness at the injection site 
  • mild fever 
  • shivering 
  • fatigue 
  • a headache 
  • muscle pain 

Symptoms usually go away within a couple of days on their own. Some people may have an immediate allergic reaction to a vaccine, called an anaphylactic reaction. This reaction can be potentially life-threatening. However, this is very rare ‑ less than 1 in a million cases - and reversible if treated immediately by healthcare staff (this is why many clinics often ask you to stay in the waiting room for a few minutes after a vaccination).

It is important to remember that not all illnesses that occur after vaccination will be a side effect. Millions of people are vaccinated each year which means that it is inevitable that some will coincidentally have an illness or infection shortly after.

Caring for your child after a vaccination

Your child may feel tired, feverish, or uncomfortable after their vaccination. There are several ways you can help to improve their comfort during this time.

Some ways to help your little one feel better after their vaccination include:

  • Give ibuprofen or paracetamol to help bring your child's temperature down if they develop a fever.
  • Give them plenty of cool fluids to drink.
  • Keep them cool. Avoid wrapping them in too many layers of clothes or blankets.
  • Avoid covering the area where the needle went in if it is painful for your child.

And don't forget to give your child lots of hugs and cuddles!