Vaccinations: key dates at a glance

Does one vaccination in childhood provide immunity throughout your life? Only in the case of some vaccinations. Others require regular boosters in adulthood. When, how and why? Find the answers here.

Text: Wilma Fasola, photo: iStock

Vaccines against infectious diseases have been hotly debated since long before COVID-19. However, figures published by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) show that vaccinations prevent between two and three million deaths a year worldwide. Vaccines may not always offer 100% protection against infection, but they usually mean that the illness is milder or runs its course without serious consequences, such as disabilities. 

Parents and paediatricians typically keep a close eye on the schedule of primary vaccinations for children and boosters for older children and young people. However, we take our eye off the ball when it comes to boosters in adulthood. “Often, many years pass between booster shots. With the tetanus vaccination, for example, there may be a gap of up to 20 years depending on age. So it’s easy to forget a vaccination,” says Thomas Dössegger, manager of the Löwen pharmacy in Dietikon.

We differentiate between primary immunisation and boosters. 

Primary immunisation for kids
Primary immunisation ensures that our immune system is protected against certain pathogens, such as the bacterium corynebacterium diphtheriae (trigger for diphtheria) and the bacterium clostridium tetani (trigger for tetanus). Vaccinations take place over a period of time and two to three times during infancy, depending on the pathogen. 

  • For example, infants receive the six-dose vaccine at 2, 4, and 11 months of age as part of their check-ups. One jab at each check-up protects the child against diphtheria, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenza infections. 
  • At 11 and 15 months, children receive the two-dose vaccination against measles, mumps, rubella and, if requested, chicken pox. The latter vaccination isn’t essential for infants. 
  • However, the Federal Commission for Vaccination (EKIF) generally recommends the chicken pox vaccine for children between the age of 11 and 15 years who haven’t had chicken pox yet.
  • Primary immunisation against HPV pathogens is also recommended between the age of 9 and 16. Since 2018, this vaccination is also recommended for boys. 

Booster shots for kids

From the age of 5 or 6, booster vaccinations are administered against pathogens for which immunity doesn’t last a lifetime. What the experts say: “Depending on the specific pathogen, the immune system needs a little push at regular intervals or another one-off shot to remind it how to defend itself against certain pathogens.” These include tetanus and diphtheria. 

Boosters for adults

Our immune system, which slows down as we get older, benefits from the stimulus boosters provide.  

  • Tetanus and diphtheria: A booster is recommended every 20 years, and every 10 years from the age of 65. 
  • Whooping cough: Another one-off vaccination in adulthood. 
  • Polio: Whether you need a polio booster depends on your individual situation. A booster may be a good idea for people who work in professions with an increased risk of infection or for people who travel to countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malawi or Mozambique. 
  • FSME (tic vaccine): As a rule, it depends on where you live. Primary immunisation usually takes place in childhood and lasts a year. The second vaccination takes place 3 months later, followed by a third 12 months after the first vaccination. A booster is then recommended every 10 years or, in consultation with a doctor, at shorter intervals after the age of 65. 
  • Flu: Opinions differ when it comes to the annual flu vaccination. “This vaccine is particularly recommended for the elderly, people at risk, pregnant women and medical professionals.” It’s best to get the flu jab in October or November. 

Vaccinations during pregnancy 

If a woman is planning on starting a family, she should check her current vaccination status beforehand and get any vaccinations or boosters required. This applies in particular to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. However, this vaccine may only be administered before or directly after pregnancy as a combination vaccination – one jab is all it takes. The flu vaccine, on the other hand, can be administered during pregnancy and is recommended by many gynaecologists. 

You can see when you’re due a vaccination in your vaccination pass or in the medical records kept by your family doctor. 

Final tips

  • Missed or premature vaccination? Doctors recommend that you catch up on a missed vaccination as soon as possible to make sure you’re fully protected again. Not too soon, however, as some vaccines shouldn’t be administered again prematurely.
  • Lost your vaccination pass? Often your family doctor has your records and can issue a new vaccination pass. If the vaccinations were administered by other doctors, you can request the information from them, too. If no information is available or if you can’t find your childhood vaccination pass, a blood test can determine which pathogens you are (still) immune to. This is a costly process, but experts believe it is currently the only effective solution.