Vaccinations are one of the best ways to protect against many serious diseases.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines prevent diseases. 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 – and 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.
(Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020)
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 can't cause disease.
After vaccination, 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 are 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 vaccination 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 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’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.
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 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.
This is also called rotavirus vaccine.
It protects against rotavirus, which affects your gut (tummy) and causes severe diarrhoea (runny poos) and vomiting (being sick, also called gastro).
Rotavirus vaccine is an oral vaccine that is simply squirted into your baby’s mouth.
It is given to babies at 6 weeks and 3 months of age.
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 vaccinated against influenza (flu) and whooping cough during pregnancy.
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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