Childhood immunisation

Also known as vaccination

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

Key points

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

Why does my child need immunisation?

In the past, many children died or were left with life-long problems from 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.

 

New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule

The National Immunisation Schedule is the group of vaccines that are offered free to babies, children and adolescents (and adults). The schedule lists the vaccines and the age at which they should be given. 

undefined

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

  • chickenpox
  • 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).

These diseases can cause serious problems, and can sometimes be fatal. Vaccination is the best protection against them. Vaccination may not always stop these diseases, but it can reduce the problems they cause. Read more about vaccines available in New Zealand.

What other vaccines may be needed?

Some children may need to have their vaccines at different times to the schedule; for example, babies at high risk of hepatitis B may be offered hepatitis B immunisation earlier than others or if they are at risk of tuberculosis they may also need the BCG vaccine to protect against tuberculosis. Discuss your own child’s needs with your doctor.

Where to go for immunisation

Your doctor or nurse can give vaccinations, which are generally given as injections in the arm or leg (rotavirus and polio vaccine are given as drops into the mouth). Make an appointment with your doctor or nurse. Pharmacists, midwives and other trained health professionals can also give some vaccines.

Preparing for immunisation

Parents can help in a number of ways.

  • Start immunising on time at 6 weeks of age.
  • Book your appointment early in the day and plan a calm day afterwards.
  • Bring along a stuffed toy or blanket for your child to hold during the immunisation, or use them to distract your child.
  • For babies, feed your child straight after their immunisation; this can help to calm your baby.
  • Hold your child firmly, talk calmly and gently stroke the child's arm or back.
  • After being pricked by the needle, your child may cry. Try to stay calm and relaxed. Hold them, comfort them and talk calmly.
  • You will need to stay at your doctor's clinic for 20 minutes after the immunisation, so bring something to keep your child busy afterwards.

Read more: tips for making immunisation easier.

After immunisation

Around 1 in 10 children have a reaction to vaccinations. Most of these reactions are mild, such as fever or redness at the injection site. These reactions show that the immune response is building and the vaccine is working. Read more about after your child is immunised and tips following immunisation.  

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

Informed choice

Immunisation is not compulsory in New Zealand but it is a good choice. There is a lot of information about immunisation and this can be confusing. It's important to check where the information is from so you can make a good choice. Think about:

  • if it is based on sound evidence
  • If it is up to date information
  • if it relates to New Zealand.

Learn more

The following links provide more information on immunisation.

About immunisation Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Immunisation overview Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Informed decision making Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Vaccine-preventable diseases Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
Information about immunisation in New Zealand Ministry of Health, NZ

References

  1. Immunisation Handbook 2017 Ministry of Health, New Zealand
Credits: Editorial team. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 28 Nov 2017