Immunisation overview

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Key points to remember

  • immunisation is the only way to protect your family from 12 serious diseases
  • immunisation on time is the most effective way to protect pregnant mums, babies and children from preventable disease
  • immunisations begin when your child is 6 weeks old
  • immunisations on the national immunisation schedule are free in New Zealand for babies, children and young people until their 18th birthday
  • the benefits of immunisation far outweigh the risks

In the video above, a paediatrician briefly talks about immunisation, saying it's the only way to protect your family from 12 serious diseases. The video also features a family talking about their experience of immunisation. 

Why does my child need immunisation?

In the past, diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough killed many children. Today, we use vaccines to immunise children against these and other diseases.

Immunisation (or vaccination) has wiped out some of the killer diseases of childhood in New Zealand. Tetanus is not common any longer (although it still occurs in children who haven't been immunised) and New Zealand is free of polio and diphtheria. While these diseases still exist in other countries, however, they are only a plane ride away.

Current and recent epidemics in New Zealand

There have been epidemics or outbreaks of some diseases in recent years in New Zealand, including:

  • whooping cough (pertussis)
  • measles

The following disease has also been having a significant impact in our communities:

  • pneumococcal disease

Funded vaccines against the following diseases are available for children in New Zealand

  • diphtheria
  • hepatitis B
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • measles
  • mumps
  • pneumococcal disease
  • polio
  • rotavirus
  • rubella
  • tetanus
  • whooping cough (also known as pertussis)
  • human papillomavirus (HPV), currently funded only for girls

These diseases/infections have been chosen for immunising against because they can cause serious (and sometimes fatal) illnesses to our children and because we have effective vaccines available against them.

For information on these diseases, see:

  • vaccine preventable diseases at the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) website
  • call IMAC on 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863), weekdays 9am - 4.30pm

Where to go for immunisation

Vaccines are usually given by the practice nurse at your family doctor’s surgery.

New Zealand childhood immunisation schedule

Thumbnail image of the national immunisation scheduleThe national immunisation schedule is the series of vaccines that are offered free to babies, children and adolescents (and adults). The schedule lists the immunisations and the age at which they’re given. See the current schedule by clicking the image at right (PDF, 138KB). 

It is important that your child has their full course to ensure continuing strong protection. Immunisations need to be given on time as delaying them leaves children unnecessarily at risk of infection.

Some children may have special requirements; for example, babies with specific risk factors may be offered hepatitis B immunisation early or the BCG vaccine to protect against tuberculosis. Discuss your own child’s needs with your doctor.

Build your own immunisation calendar

The IMAC website allows you to build your own immunisation calendar.

Be there for your baby during immunisations - if you are confident, your baby will be too

Parents can help decrease anxiety about immunisations in a number of ways.

  • start immunising on time at 6 weeks of age
  • remain calm and relaxed, even when your child becomes upset
  • breast feeding reduces the baby's pain
  • book your appointment early in the day before everyone is tired
  • plan a calm day
  • bring along a stuffed toy or blanket for your child to hold during the immunisation, or use them yourself as a tool for distraction
  • hold your child firmly during the procedure, talking calmly and gently stroking the child's arm or back
  • after being pricked by the needle, your child may cry for a brief time. It is their way of coping. Your job is to comfort, hold, and talk supportively
  • you will need to remain in your doctor's clinic for 20 minutes after the immunisation. Rather than leave immediately, stay in the clinic until your child has calmed down. This will help your child to remember the clinic as a nice place and will help to make the next visit easier
  • for babies, book your appointment to allow you to feed your child immediately after they have had their immunisation

After immunisation

Around 1 in 10 children can expect a reaction to an immunisation. The vast majority of these are mild, such as redness on the arm or a grizzly child for a day or two. A reaction is an expected sign that the immune response is building and the vaccine is working. Occasionally, more concerning reactions occur like prolonged crying. Although worrying at the time, research shows there are no long-term problems following such reactions. However, if you are concerned, contact your nurse or doctor.

Very rarely, a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can happen. This is treatable and occurs very shortly after the injection. This is why you must wait at the clinic for 20 minutes after vaccination. If you are concerned, contact your practice nurse or doctor straightaway.

Informed choice

Immunisation is not compulsory in New Zealand but it is a wise parenting choice. There is a lot of information on immunisation and this can be confusing. It's important to check out the source of the material before accepting the conclusions offered. Question critically:

  • is it based on sound evidence?
  • is it up to date information taking the latest research into consideration?
  • does it relate to New Zealand?
This page last reviewed 12 May 2015
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2015
Printed on 04 June 2015. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
Content endorsed by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand