The science of immunisation—common questions answered

May 14, 2021

The Australian Academy of Science has launched a new guide about the science of immunisation to help counter misinformation and uncertainty surrounding vaccines for COVID-19 and other diseases.

The guide, which was developed with the support of the Australian Government Department of Health, answers common questions including:

  • What is immunisation?
  • What is in a vaccine?
  • Who benefits from vaccines?
  • Are vaccines safe?
  • What does the future hold for vaccination?

It highlights that the vaccines currently in use in Australian provide benefits that greatly outweigh the risks of associated adverse side effects.


Academy President, Professor John Shine, said despite the benefits of immunisation and vaccine development being well established after decades of scientific research, it can be challenging to understand how immunisation works or where to find trusted and independent information.

“The continuing spread of misinformation about vaccines is making it difficult to understand whether a claim is based on credible scientific evidence.

“Herd immunity, adverse events, efficacy: these are just some of the vaccine-related terms people are hearing regularly in the media that they may not understand as we manage the COVID-19 pandemic or in relation to vaccines that protect us from other diseases.

“This booklet explains these terms and provides up-to-date information about the science of immunisation in clear and easy-to-understand language with the aim of giving confidence to individuals to make informed health decisions based on science,” said Professor Shine.

Professor Carola Vinuesa. Photo: Australian Academy of Science

‘Vaccination saves lives’

The guide was prepared by an expert working group comprising leading medical practitioners and researchers including Australian Academy of Science Fellow Professor Carola Vinuesa.

Professor Vinuesa said the guide is designed to build trust and understanding among the public of the scientific process behind vaccines.

“It is encouraging to see that immunisation rates for a range of diseases continues to rise and is historically high,” Professor Vinuesa said.

“The act of vaccination saves lives and can limit and prevent infectious diseases around the world, which still account for around 40 per cent of all recorded deaths globally.”

The guide makes clear that scientists and health authorities keep a close eye on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, including after vaccines are rolled out to the public.

General Practitioner Dr Preeya Alexander was a member of the expert working group that developed the guide. She said discussing vaccine concerns with a trusted health professional is one of the best ways for people to understand what scientists and public health professionals know about a disease and the best protection against it.

“However, it is equally important for health professionals to listen openly to those concerns,” said Dr Alexander.

Read the guide

The guide is available fully online as web content, as a downloadable PDF, and in print, and there are short easy-to-understand videos to watch and share.

Anyone can order free printed copies of the document through the Australian Academy of Science website. Read more at

© 2024 Australian Academy of Science