There's a recommended timetable for routine childhood vaccinations. This timetable has been worked out to give children the best chance of developing immunity against common diseases safely and effectively, and doing it early enough to minimise their risk of catching these diseases.
When to start childhood vaccinations
Routine childhood vaccinations start when a baby is two months old. This may seem very young, but babies can catch diseases at any time, so the earlier we start the better. It’s a good age to start vaccinations, because the natural immunity to illness that newborn babies get from their mother begins to wear off. If a vaccine is given before two months old, the baby’s natural immunity to disease may stop it from working.
That's why you should ideally have your child vaccinated at the recommended time. Any delay can leave your baby unprotected against illnesses that are often more common and worse in younger children.
Vaccinations for premature babies
Babies who are born early can have a greater risk of catching infections than babies born on time. This is because their immune systems are less developed and they don’t receive as much natural immunity from their mothers.
It’s especially important that premature babies get their vaccines on time, from two months after birth, no matter how premature they are.
It may seem very early to give a vaccination to such a tiny baby, but many scientific studies have shown that it’s a good time to give them vaccines. Postponing vaccination until they're older leaves them vulnerable to diseases.
If your baby was born very prematurely (before 26 weeks of pregnancy), they may still be in hospital when they're recommended to have their first vaccinations. In this case, your baby will receive their first jabs in hospital.
Read this NHS leaflet on vaccinations for premature babies (PDF, 221kb).
Some vaccines are given more than once. The gap between these different vaccine doses is to make sure that each one has time to work effectively.
However, the recommended gap is only a minimum. If the gap is longer – because you missed an appointment, for example – you don’t have to start the course again.
Vaccination for life
The NHS childhood vaccination schedule tells you when each routine vaccination should be given. It normally starts when your baby is two months old and is completed by the time they're 18.
Other non-routine vaccines may be needed throughout childhood, for example, travel vaccines or vaccines for children with certain medical conditions.