Childhood immunisation

Also known as vaccination

Immunisation is the most effective way to protect your child against preventable childhood diseases that can cause serious, and sometimes fatal, illness.

Key points about immunisation
  1. Immunisation protects your child from serious and sometimes fatal diseases.
  2. Immunisation on time is the most effective way to protect pregnant mums, babies and children from preventable disease.
  3. Immunisations begin when your child is 6 weeks old.
  4. Immunisations on the national immunisation schedule are free in New Zealand for all babies, children and young people until their 18th birthday.
  5. Research shows that the benefits of immunisation far outweigh the risks.

Why does my child need immunisation?

undefinedIn the past, many children died or were left with life-long problems due to diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, polio and whooping cough.  Today, we use vaccines to immunise children against these and other diseases. 

Vaccines stimulate their immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if they were exposed to the disease. The child will develop immunity to that disease, but they don't have to get sick first. This is what makes vaccines such a powerful medicine.

Immunisation (or vaccination) has successfully wiped out some of these diseases in New Zealand. Tetanus is not common any longer, although it still occurs in children who haven't been immunised, and New Zealand is free of polio and diphtheria. These diseases still exist in other countries, however, so they are only a plane ride away.

Current and recent epidemics in New Zealand

There have been epidemics or outbreaks of some diseases in recent years in New Zealand, including whooping cough (pertussis) and measles.

Pneumococcal disease has also been having a significant impact in our communities.

New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule

undefinedThe national immunisation schedule is the series of vaccines that are offered free to babies, children and adolescents (and adults). The schedule lists the immunisations and the age at which they’re given. 

Build your own immunisation calendar

The IMAC website allows you to build your own immunisation calendar

What vaccines are funded in New Zealand?

Vaccines against the following diseases are available for children free-of-charge in New Zealand:

  • diphtheria
  • hepatitis B
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • measles
  • mumps
  • pneumococcal disease
  • polio
  • rotavirus
  • rubella
  • tetanus
  • whooping cough (also known as pertussis)
  • human papillomavirus (HPV), currently funded only for girls.

These diseases/infections have been chosen for immunising against because they can cause serious, and sometimes fatal, illnesses to our children and because we have effective vaccines available against them.

What other vaccines may be needed?

Some children may have special requirements; for example, babies with specific risk factors may be offered hepatitis B immunisation early or the BCG vaccine to protect against tuberculosis. Discuss your own child’s needs with your doctor.

Where to go for immunisation

Vaccines are usually given by the practice nurse at your family doctor’s surgery. It is important that your child has their full course to ensure continuing strong protection. Immunisations need to be given on time as delaying them leaves children unnecessarily at risk of infection.

Preparing for immunisation

Parents can help decrease anxiety about immunisations in a number of ways.

  • start immunising on time at 6 weeks of age
  • book your appointment early in the day before everyone is tired and plan a calm day
  • bring along a stuffed toy or blanket for your child to hold during the immunisation, or use them yourself as a tool for distraction
  • for babies, book your appointment to allow you to feed your child immediately after they have had their immunisation. Breast feeding reduces the baby's pain
  • hold your child firmly during the procedure, talking calmly and gently stroking the child's arm or back
  • after being pricked by the needle, your child may cry for a brief time. It is their way of coping. Try to remain calm and relaxed. Hold them, comfort them and talk supportively
  • you will need to remain in your doctor's clinic for 20 minutes after the immunisation, so come prepared with something to keep your child occupied

After immunisation

Around 1 in 10 children can expect a reaction to an immunisation. The vast majority of these reactions are mild, such as redness on the arm or a grizzly child for a day or two. A reaction is an expected sign that the immune response is building and the vaccine is working.

Occasionally, more concerning reactions occur like prolonged crying. Although worrying at the time, research shows there are no long-term problems following such reactions. However, if you are concerned, contact your nurse or doctor.

Very rarely, a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can happen. This is treatable and occurs very shortly after the injection. This is why you must wait at the clinic for 20 minutes after vaccination. If you are concerned, contact your practice nurse or doctor straight away.

Informed choice

Immunisation is not compulsory in New Zealand but it is a wise parenting choice. There is a lot of information on immunisation and this can be confusing. It's important to check out the source of the material before accepting the conclusions offered. Question critically:

  • is it based on sound evidence?
  • is it up to date information taking the latest research into consideration?
  • does it relate to New Zealand?

Learn more

About immunisation Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Immunisation overview Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
FAQs about immunisation Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Vaccine preventable diseases Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Information about immunisation in New Zealand Ministry of Health, NZ