Vaccinations are one of the best ways to protect against many serious infectious diseases.
Vaccination is a highly effective method of preventing certain infectious diseases. Routine immunisation programmes protect most of the world’s children from a number of infectious diseases that previously caused millions of deaths each year. For travellers, vaccination offers the possibility of avoiding some infectious diseases that may be encountered abroad.
How do vaccines work?
Being vaccinated causes your body to produce antibodies. This means that if you are infected with a disease (from a cough, sneeze, blood, etc), these protective antibodies are already in your bloodstream to quickly fight off the germs. Even if vaccinated people do get sick from the disease, they usually get a mild form of that disease, recover faster and are 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.
This vaccine does not contain any virus. Instead, it contains a molecule called mRNA that has instructions for making the spike protein on the surface of the COVID virus. The virus needs this spike protein to enter your body’s cells.
The mRNA from the vaccine does not stay in your body, but is broken down shortly after vaccination.
Vaccines may also contain other ingredients, such as preservatives, and ingredients that help your body respond to the vaccine. The very small amount of these ingredients does 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/whānau’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 your immune response is building and the vaccine is working. If you are worried, contact your doctor straight away.
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.
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.
Vaccination is an important part of protecting the community against disease. This helps to prevent 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 people who are vaccinated don't 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.
Where can I get vaccinated?
The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.
If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Phone them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.
You can find a clinic near you on theHealthpointwebsite. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.
Vaccines on theNational Immunisation Scheduleare free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.
The following vaccines are available in New Zealand. Some are given as routine vaccinations, in keeping with the New Zealand immunisation schedule. Others are given in special cases, eg, when you have an increased chance of getting an infection. This could be due to high-risk exposure at work, international travel or if you have reduced immunity, such as elderly people, pregnant women and people having chemotherapy or organ transplant.
Routine vaccinations 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.
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine®
This is also called the Comirnaty vaccine.
It protects against coronavirus disease COVID-19, which is caused by SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2).
The Pfizer vaccine is extremely effective against the COVID-19 virus if you have both doses.
This high efficacy means that if you do catch COVID-19, you’re far less likely to fall seriously ill and less likely to transmit the virus to others.
It is given to everyone in Aotearoa New Zealand aged 12 years and over.
This is also called Haemophilus influenza type B vaccine.
It is used for a booster vaccination to protect against disease caused by the bacteria called Haemophilus influenzae, which causes mild to very serious illness, particularly in children under the age of 5 years.
It is recommended that all pregnant women get the influenza vaccine and COVID-19 vaccine at any stage of pregnancy and whooping cough vaccine from 16 weeks gestation. They can be given at the same time or separately.
Some vaccines are best not given during pregnancy. These include the MMR, chickenpox and pneumococcal vaccines. It is best to wait 4 weeks (1 month) after having these vaccines before trying to get pregnant. Read more about pregnancy and immunisation.
Other vaccines (non-routine immunisation)
The following vaccines are given in special cases to people at high risk of getting some infections. These vaccines are not usually funded but some may be funded for special cases.
It is used to prevent infection with hepatitis A virus and is funded for transplant patients and children with chronic liver disease, and people who have close contact with other people who have hepatitis A.
This vaccine is used to protect against the hepatitis B virus.
It is used in special groups eligible for hepatitis B vaccine, older children or adults who have not had their complete hepatitis B vaccinations or it is given at birth to infants born to mothers who are hepatitis B positive.
In the following videos, Dr Keriana Bird discusses commonly asked questions about immunisation. Knowing the facts can help you feel more confident about making sure your child has all their vaccinations.
(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021)
Immunisation: common questions answered
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Are there any side effects from vaccines?
Is there a natural alternative to immunisation?
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