Vaccinations are one of the best ways to protect against many serious diseases.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines prevent diseases. They work by making your immune system produce special cells called antibodies that will attack and kill diseases when they enter the body.
This means that if a person is infected with a disease (from a cough, sneeze, blood, etc), these protective antibodies are already in their bloodstream to quickly fight off the germs. Even if vaccinated people do get sick from the disease, they will usually get a mild form of that disease – and will recover faster and be less likely to have serious complications.
Babies are born with immunity to some infections because their mother’s antibodies are passed on to them in the womb, but this immunity does not last long. Babies get more immunity from being breastfed and, as they grow, they need vaccinations at specific ages to protect them from many life-threatening diseases. Read more about vaccine-preventable diseases.
(Ministry of Health NZ, 2017)
What are the types of vaccines?
There are generally 3 types of vaccines.
Type of vaccine
These contain bacteria or viruses that have been weakened so that they cannot cause disease.
After immunisation, the weakened vaccine viruses or bacteria replicate (grow) in the vaccinated person. This small amount of virus or bacteria can stimulate an immune response.
Examples of these vaccines include:
measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR)
Live vaccines are not recommended if you are pregnant or have a very weak immune system from active cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma, HIV or taking medicines that can weaken your immune system.
Dead (or inactivated) vaccines
These contain bacteria or viruses that have been killed or inactivated.
They can be safely given to a person with a weakened immune system. However, a person with an impaired immune system response may not develop the same amount of protection after immunisation as a healthy person receiving the vaccine.
With inactivated vaccines, you usually need many doses to give full protection against diseases.
Examples of these vaccines include:
some influenza vaccines
hepatitis A vaccine.
These contain parts of bacteria or viruses or bacterial toxins that have been made harmless.
Examples of these vaccines include:
hepatitis B vaccine
human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine
Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine
Vaccines may also contain other ingredients, such as preservatives, and ingredients that help the body respond to the vaccine. The very small amount of these ingredients do not cause any harm. Learn more about what ingredients are in a vaccine.
When should you get vaccinated?
The National Immunisation Schedule has a list of free vaccinations for different ages. Vaccinating on time gives the best protection. Missing or late vaccinations can put your family’s health at risk.
Most vaccines are given to babies and children to build up their immunity. Vaccination starts at 6 weeks old. Other vaccines are recommended for people who are at greater risk of certain diseases, such as people with a weakened immune system because of illness or the medicines they are taking, the elderly or people who are travelling overseas where certain diseases are more common.
Are there any risks to being vaccinated?
Most reactions to vaccines 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. Very rarely, a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can happen. This is treatable and occurs soon after the injection. This is why you must wait at the doctor's clinic for 20 minutes after vaccination. If you are worried, contact your doctor straight away. Read more about comparison of possible disease complications and vaccine responses and learn more about side effects from vaccines.
How effective are vaccines?
Studies have shown that if all recommended doses of vaccines are given, they will protect 80–98% of the children who are vaccinated. For example, pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is effective in about 84% of children and the measles vaccine in 90–98% of children.1
Vaccination is an important part of protecting the community against disease. This helps to lower serious infections spreading and protects babies who are yet to be fully vaccinated and people who cannot be vaccinated because they are unwell. About 95% of people in the community need to be vaccinated to protect the whole community against diseases like measles. Learn more about worldwide protection.
A very small number of children who are vaccinated do not develop strong immunity and they may still become ill with one of the diseases. If that happens, they usually have a milder illness than people who have not been vaccinated. More than one dose of some vaccines is needed for full protection. Booster doses of vaccines may be also be needed for some diseases to stay protected. Learn more about the effectiveness of vaccines.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team . Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland
Last reviewed: 13 Dec 2017
The following vaccines are available in New Zealand. Some are given as part of the New Zealand immunisation schedule while others are given in special cases. For example, when a person has an increased chance of getting an infection – this could be due to high-risk exposure at work or international travel, or if a person has reduced immunity, such as in elderly people, pregnant women and people having chemotherapy or organ transplant.
Routine immunisations are a series of vaccines that are offered free to babies, children, adolescents and adults.
The New Zealand Immunisation Schedule is the list of vaccines that are offered free to babies, children and adolescents (and adults). The schedule lists the vaccinations and the age at which they’re given.
Often a number of vaccines are combined into one injection. This reduces the number of injections needed to give protection against the diseases.
With some vaccines, a single dose gives life-long protection to most people, while other vaccines may need a few doses (called boosters) to give good protection. Read more about childhood immunisation.
This vaccine protects against rotavirus, which is a virus that affects the stomach (tummy) and causes severe diarrhoea and/or vomiting (gastroenteritis).
It is given as a liquid squirted into the mouth.
It is given to babies at 6 weeks and 3 months of age.
Hiberix® is used for a booster vaccination to protect against disease caused by the bacteria called Haemophilus influenzae. This bug commonly causes pneumonia and can also trigger ear infections and bronchitis.
Is used to protect against chickenpox (also called varicella-zoster infection). The vaccine may prevent or reduce the severity of chickenpox disease if it is given within 3–5 days of coming into contact with someone with the disease.
It is given to infants at 15 months or older children at 11 years of age if they have not had the vaccination or the disease.
The influenza vaccine protects against the sometimes serious effects of influenza.
Each year the flu vaccine is made to match the different strains of flu virus that are around. In New Zealand, the new vaccine is usually available in March and people are advised to have the vaccine before the winter season when the flu is most common.
It is given every year (annually) and is free for New Zealanders aged 65 years and over, pregnant women and children and adults under 65 who have certain medical conditions or meet certain requirements.
Shingles vaccine is used to prevent the occurrence of shingles (also called herpes zoster).
From 1 April 2018, the shingles vaccine is funded for people who are 65 years old. People aged 66–80 years may also receive the vaccination for the next 2 years.
Some people aged under 65 years who are at increased risk of shingles may also want to think about having the vaccination, although it is not funded for this group. You are at increased risk of shingles if you have a weakened immune system, rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, asthma and diabetes.
It is recommended in workers who could be exposed to faeces (poos) during the course of their work, such as workers in early childhood services, carers of people with developmental disabilities, healthcare workers including cleaners, sex industry workers and people who work with sewerage.
Hepatitis A vaccine is also recommended for men who have sex with men, people with chronic liver disease or who are at risk developing chronic liver disease (such as people who are hepatitis B or hepatitis C positive, injecting drug users, people who misuse alcohol) and people with certain immune system disorders or a damaged or missing spleen.
Havrix is funded for transplant patients and children with chronic liver disease, and people who have close contact with other people who have hepatitis A.
Hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for infants born to hepatitis B positive mothers, and people who could be exposed to blood or body fluids during the course of their work, such as healthcare professionals, members of the armed forces, sex industry workers and tattooists.
It is also recommended in inmates of correctional facilities (prisoners), men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, people with chronic liver disease or who are at risk of developing chronic liver disease (such as people who misuse alcohol) and people with certain immune system disorders.
Another similar vaccine that protects against hepatitis B is Engerix-B
Is used to protect against some strains of bacteria (bugs) that cause meningitis.
It is recommended for all at-risk children aged 12 months to 18 years, anyone who has been exposed to meningitis, anyone travelling to or living where meningococcal disease is common, military recruits and others living in close quarters like in a hostel and people with certain immune system disorders or a damaged or missing spleen. It is not funded for non-high-risk children and adolescents.