Why are there differences in country vaccination schedules?
Most countries in the developed world tend to recommend the same kinds of vaccines for babies, children and adults. However, vaccination schedules are not exactly the same from country to country. There may be differences in:
- the types of vaccines included in the programme;
- the ages at which vaccines and boosters are recommended;
- the number of vaccine doses that are recommended for each vaccine;
- the types of vaccines recommended for the whole population;
- the types of vaccines recommended for special groups (such as pregnant women).
In the US and Canada, for example, the flu vaccine is recommended for everyone over 6 months old, while in the UK the programme is targeted to children, adults over 65, and special groups such as people with serious medical conditions. Some vaccines are not included in the UK routine programme, but are in other countries; for example, chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is recommended routinely in Australia and the USA, but not in the UK. In the UK the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is offered to pregnant women in order to protect their newborn babies, and this programme has been very successful. However, some countries recommend ‘cocooning’ (vaccination of close contacts of pregnant women) instead, while most countries just offer the pertussis vaccine to babies.
These variations are the result of:
- Differences in the epidemiology (patterns and frequency) of the disease in each country;
- Differences in the way that countries make decisions about which vaccines to offer to everyone;
- History and tradition (“we have always done it this way”).
How is the UK routine programme decided?
In the UK, the JCVI (the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) makes recommendations to the UK government about which vaccines should be introduced, and for which groups of people. They consider evidence on the burden of disease in the UK, on how safe and effective the vaccine is, and on the impact and cost effectiveness of introducing a new vaccine. (See the JCVI’s code of practice , especially paragraph 63-64.) Other countries may use different criteria to reach their decisions about which vaccines to introduce, and will therefore end up with different schedules.
What do I do if I move to the UK and my child has been part-vaccinated in another country?
When you register with a GP in the UK you should let them have your immunisation records. The GP practice is responsible for looking at the immunisation history and providing advice and/or vaccines to make sure that you and your child are vaccinated in line with the UK routine programme. While you are living in the UK it is important to be protected against the infections that are a public health risk here. Some courses of vaccination which have been started overseas will also be completed by your GP practice. Vaccines given this way are given as part of the NHS service.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has a useful website which lets you compare vaccination schedules from all the countries in Europe .
For information about who is entitled to NHS treatment when they move to the UK, see the NHS Choices page .
How can I obtain vaccines that are not offered as part of the routine UK schedule?
Any vaccines that are not part of the NHS provided service are only accessible through private provision. This may be through a private hospital, travel clinic or another GP practice (where you are not a registered patient). Patients and parents who want to access vaccines privately are responsible for finding these services. Pricing may vary between providers.
If you are planning to travel overseas or back to your country of origin, there may be additional vaccines recommended. The Nathnac website has details aimed at travellers. NaTHNaC (the National Travel Health Network and Centre) is commissioned by Public Health England to provide up to date and reliable information on travel vaccines for UK travellers. Appointments should be made with the nurse at your GP practice at least 6-8 weeks before you travel.