Childhood immunisation

Immunisation is also known as vaccination

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

On this page you can find the following information:

Key points

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

(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2019)

Why does my child need vaccination?

In the past, many children died or were left with life-long problems from diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles 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. Read more about why you should vaccinate.

(Northland District Health Board, NZ, 2015)

Aotearoa New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule

The National Immunisation Schedule lists 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. 

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


Image credit: Ministry of Health, NZ

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.

(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017)

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. If they are at risk of tuberculosis they may also need the BCG vaccine to protect against tuberculosis. Discuss your child’s own needs with your doctor.

Where to go for vaccination

You can make an appointment with a healthcare provider for vaccinations. Most are given by your doctor or nurse, but pharmacists, midwives and other trained health professionals can also give some vaccines. 

New Zealand pharmacists who have completed an approved vaccinator training course can administer a variety of vaccines including the flu vaccine, measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine, meningococcal vaccine and shingles vaccine.  Always call your pharmacy ahead of time to find out if they offer this service, the cost and whether they can order the vaccine for you.

Preparing for vaccination

Vaccinations are most often given as injections in the arm or leg, but the rotavirus vaccine is given as drops into the mouth. 

Parents can help in a number of ways.

  • Check which vaccines you need to have during your pregnancy.
  • Start vaccinating your baby on time at 6 weeks of age.
  • For young children, 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 vaccination, or use them to distract your child.
  • For babies, feed your child straight after their vaccination; this can help to calm your baby.
  • Hold your child firmly, talk calmly and gently stroke your 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 for 20 minutes after the vaccination, so bring something to keep your child busy afterwards.

Read more tips for making immunisation easier.

After vaccination

About 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 which is why you must wait for 20 minutes after vaccination. If you are worried, ask to see the nurse or doctor straight away.

Informed choice

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

  • is based on sound evidence
  • is up-to-date information
  • relates to Aotearoa New Zealand.

Learn more

The following links provide more information on vaccination.

Children Fight Flu, NZ
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 NZ Ministry of Health, NZ

References

  1. Immunisation Handbook 2020 Ministry of Health, NZ

Reviewed by

Angela is a pharmacist in the Quality Use of Medicines Team at Waitematā District Health Board. She has experience in hospital pharmacy in New Zealand and in the UK, and was previously a medical writer for Elsevier in The Netherlands. Angela is interested in promoting the safe use of medicines, particularly high-risk medicines.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team . Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 04 Oct 2022