Why should I get vaccinated?

Immunisation with a vaccine is recommended for everyone throughout their lives. It protects you, your family and your community. It also helps protect future generations by reducing or even completely wiping out diseases.

Do the words ‘vaccination’ and ‘immunisation’ mean the same thing?

They don’t quite mean the same thing. Vaccination is the term used to describe the process of getting a vaccine, eg, by injection or taking an oral dose. The term immunisation covers both getting the vaccine, and your body’s response to it in becoming immune (or increasing your level of immunity) to a specific disease after you’ve been vaccinated.

(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017)

What do vaccines do?

Vaccines stimulate your immune system to produce antibodies to a particular disease, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. You develop immunity to that disease, but you don't have to get sick first. This is what makes vaccines such a powerful preventative treatment. Read more about vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases.

(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017)

Some people in our community can't be vaccinated. This might be because they are too young or too unwell. You can help protect these vulnerable people by keeping your and your whānau’s vaccinations up to date. When enough people in the community are vaccinated, the spread of a disease slows down or stops completely. If enough people are vaccinated, the disease can't spread. This is called herd immunity.

(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017)

Who needs to be vaccinated and when?

Vaccines help protect you from serious infectious diseases throughout your life – from infancy to early adulthood and into old age. Vaccines are recommended to be given at the ages when they will be most helpful. Sometimes vaccines are recommended due to an outbreak of infectious disease, eg, meningococcal disease, or during a pandemic such as COVID-19.

Ages and stages

Why vaccinate babies and children?

Newborn babies are immune to many diseases because they have antibodies from their mothers. However, this immunity goes away during their first year of life. This means they need to be vaccinated against diseases they might catch.

  • If an unvaccinated child is exposed to a disease germ, their body may not be strong enough to fight the disease. Before vaccines, many children died from diseases that vaccines now prevent, such as whooping cough, measles, tetanus and polio. Those same germs exist today, but because babies are protected by vaccines we don’t see these diseases nearly as often.
  • Vaccinating children also helps to protect the health of our community, especially those who can’t be vaccinated. This includes children who are too young to be vaccinated, people who can’t receive certain vaccines for medical reasons, as well as the small proportion of people who don’t respond to a particular vaccine.

Read more about childhood immunisation and older children and teenagers immunisation. 

Do older people need to be vaccinated?

As you get older, protection from some childhood vaccines can wear off.  Also, your immune system tends to weaken over time, putting you at higher risk of certain infectious diseases. Free vaccination is offered for people from 65 years old onwards to protect you against serious diseases such as influenza, shingles, tetanus and diphtheria. Read more about immunisation for older adults.  

Why do pregnant women need to be vaccinated?

During pregnancy, it is important you are protected against infections and illnesses that can be harmful to you and your baby. Some illnesses, such as the flu and COVID-19, are especially dangerous for pregnant women. Some illnesses such as whooping cough are especially dangerous for newborn babies who may catch the infection from their mothers. Vaccination is an effective way to protect yourself and your baby.

  • Whooping cough (pertussis), flu and COVID-19 vaccines are safe to be given during pregnancy and are free to pregnant women in New Zealand.
  • It is recommended that all pregnant women have the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccination between 28 to 38 weeks of pregnancy. You can have a flu vaccination or a COVID-19 vaccination at any time. It is best to have a whooping cough booster and flu vaccination for every pregnancy.
  • Some vaccines are best not given during pregnancy. These include the MMR, chickenpox and pneumococcal vaccinations. It is best to wait 4 weeks (1 month) after having these vaccinations before trying to get pregnant. Read more about pregnancy and immunisation. 

Who else needs to be vaccinated?

Some people who are at an increased risk for certain diseases may need additional vaccines.

Groups at higher risk for certain diseases

People with long-term health problems

  • Having long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart, lung, spleen or kidney problems can put you at risk of getting vaccine preventable diseases such as the flu. You can benefit from vaccination.
  • Similarly, if you take medicines that weaken your immune system, such as chemotherapy, you may also benefit from vaccination.
  • Read more about funded vaccines for special groups. Some vaccinations are also available and recommended for special groups, but not funded.

Healthcare workers and other employees who have contact with lots of people

  • If you work directly with patients or handle material that could spread infection, it’s important to make sure you are up to date with recommended vaccinations such hepatitis B, flu, COVID-19 and pertussis vaccines. This reduces the chance of you getting or spreading vaccine-preventable diseases. Protect yourself, your patients and your family members.
  • Healthcare workers include doctors, nurses, emergency medical personnel, dental professionals and students, medical and nursing students, laboratory technicians, pharmacists, hospital volunteers and administrative staff.
  • Other workers may come into contact with many people in the course of their work, exposing them to risk of infections such as the flu. Employers may offer to pay for some vaccinations where there is a high risk of illness for their employees. Ask your employer if they recommend or fund particular vaccinations such as the annual flu vaccination.

If you're travelling overseas

  • Before you travel, check with your doctor or a specialist travel doctor clinic whether any vaccinations are needed for the areas you are travelling to. Try to do this  at least 6–8 weeks before you leave, as some vaccinations need to be given over a few weeks. Read more about vaccines and international travel. 

Gay or bisexual men

  • Vaccines provide important protection for gay and bisexual men. Men who have sex with men have a higher chance of getting serious diseases such as hepatitis A, hepatitis B and HPV.
  • Getting vaccinated can help keep you, your family and your community healthy.
  • If you’re a man who has sex with men, talk with your doctor about recommended vaccines that protect against flu, HPV, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. 

Are there any risks involved in vaccination?

There is a small risk of a reaction to having a vaccination, especially if you are allergic to animal proteins such as eggs, antibiotics, stabilisers or preservatives. In rare cases, this can be severe or (very rarely) fatal.

  • This is why people are asked to wait up to 20 minutes after receiving some vaccines so that there is someone to help if you have a reaction.
  • However, the benefits of being vaccinated outweigh the risks. You are much more likely to get ill from an infectious disease, such as measles, tetanus or diphtheria, than you are to get sick from a vaccine.
  • It makes sense to protect your health and wellbeing, and your whānau and people around you, by getting the recommended vaccinations. Read more about vaccine safety and making an informed decision. 

(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2017)

Learn more

Immunisation – getting good information and making decisions The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
What if ... I delay or decline immunisation The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ
The facts about childhood vaccines The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, US
NZ National Immunisation Schedule from 1 April 2018 The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ, 2018
Resources The Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ 

Reviewed by

Dr Jonathan Kennedy is a senior lecturer in the Department of Primary Health Care & General Practice at the University of Otago, Wellington and a general practitioner in Newtown, Wellington.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Jonathan Kennedy, GP and Senior Lecturer Last reviewed: 02 Dec 2022