Immunisation know how


Did you know that you can immunise against chicken pox and rotavirus? Do you have questions about how vaccines work? Find out everything you need to know about how they can protect you against serious disease.

Everyone would agree that keeping their family healthy and happy is a top priority. Unfortunately, even the healthiest people can be affected by diseases circulating in our communities, and young babies are particularly at risk of serious complications from them. Immunisation is a very safe and effective way of helping prevent at least 12 potentially serious diseases. Most of the vaccines combine protection against more than one disease, meaning fewer injections for your baby, and less tears all round!

The National Immunisation Schedule

Starting at the age of 6 weeks, four visits up to age 15 months provide the majority of immunisations. Two more visits at 4 and 11 years boost the effectiveness of earlier immunisations. For 12 year-olds (and all those up to 26 years old), there is also the HPV immunisation programme, two injections are given six months apart.

how vaccines work

When germs invade the body, our immune system deals with them by producing things called antibodies that attack and destroy the germ. When we first come across that germ, our immune response responds too slowly to prevent us from getting sick. Afterwards, our immune system creates a memory for how to make the antibodies for that germ so next time, it responds quickly and usually deals with the infection before we get sick. Vaccines work in the same way, but use a weakened, inactive form or fragment of the germ. In response to a vaccine, our immune system produces antibodies and memory to protect against the germ when we are exposed to it at a later date. Most vaccine memory lasts for many years, but it does drop off over time; some require booster shots to boost the immune memory.

vaccines don’t make you sick

Vaccines will not cause or give you the disease. Not everyone is 100% protected by vaccines, but if most people are immunised, the spread of the germ is reduced. You need to have all the recommended doses of a vaccine to make sure it can do the best job of protection possible.

disease outbreaks

The more people who are vaccinated, the less likely that a disease can spread. Young babies and people with weakened immune systems are less able to fight infections and more likely to get very sick.

As we learnt from the mumps outbreak in Auckland that started in 2017, if people miss vaccines earlier in life they may not be protected if the disease emerges years later. In a population that is fully immunised, diseases like mumps and measles cannot spread very far, but if there is a gap in that protection, they can spread very quickly and those who do not respond as well or cannot be given the vaccine are at a greater risk of being exposed to the disease.

other vaccines worth considering

There are other important vaccines that are licensed and available in New Zealand, but not provided free on the National

Immunisation Schedule. Rotavirus and chicken pox are very common and, in a small number of cases, the complications from these diseases are very serious. Talk to your family doctor about purchasing these vaccines.

whooping cough

About every three to five years, outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) happen. Whooping cough is a vaccine-preventable disease that causes severe bouts of coughing, which may be accompanied by vomiting and a ‘whooping’ sound. It can last up to three months. Around 7 out of 10 babies who catch whooping cough before the age of 6 months end up in hospital. In young babies and children, the oxygen supply to the brain can temporarily stop (hypoxia). In around 2 in 1000 children, whooping cough infection leads to permanent brain damage, paralysis, deafness or blindness. Secondary infections such as pneumonia and ear infections can occur. It is much harder to recognise whooping cough in adults and it’s likely that up to one in five adults with a persistent dry cough, lasting more that 2-3 weeks, have in fact got whooping cough. It is much harder to recognise whooping cough in adults and teenagers, and very easy for them and older children to pass it on to the babies in their family.

chicken pox (varicella)

In a typical year, NZ is estimated to experience approximately 50,000 chicken pox infections, result in around 400 hospitalisations each year, of which, one to two cases lead to long term disability or death. The vaccine is given at 15 months of age and for 11-year olds who have not had chickenpox or been vaccinated. It is recommended, but not funded, for all children and adults who are not immune to chickenpox.


Rotavirus is a common and highly contagious virus that infects the gut causing diarrhoea and vomiting in infants and young children. Without immunisation, almost all children in the world are infected by rotavirus before age 5. The rotavirus vaccine is given orally (no needles!). The first dose is given to babies at 6-weeks. The second dose is given between 10- and 24-weeks.

Meningococcal disease

Meningococcal disease is caused by a bacterial infection that occasionally invades the body and spreads very rapidly. If it enters the brain it causes swelling of the covering of the brain, this is known as meningitis. Initially it appears like flu, but can progress very rapidly, infecting the blood and leading to septicaemia. It is a very serious illness, which, if not treated very quickly can mean admission to intensive care unit in hospital and permanent damage or death. Immunisation helps to prevent the infection entering the body and spreading from person to person. Young children under 4 years of age and those age 15-19 years are at highest risk but older adults can also get sick.

Meningococcal vaccines are available (but not funded) for children from 2 years of age, and are particularly recommended for adolescents and young adults living in communal accommodation, such as boarding school, University accommodation and hostels. Talk to your family doctor about purchasing these vaccines.

agediseases covered and vaccines
6 weeks3 months5 months
(2 injections and one dropped in mouth at each event)
Diphtheria / Tetanus / Whooping cough / Polio / Hepatitis B / Haemophilus influenzae type b
6 weeks3 months5 months
(2 injections and one dropped in mouth at each event)
6 weeks3 months5 months
(2 injections and one dropped in mouth at each event)
Rotavirus (given orally)
6 weeks3 months5 months
(2 injections and one dropped in mouth at each event)
Haemophilus influenzae type b
Measles / Mumps / RubellaPneumococcal
6 weeks3 months5 months
(2 injections and one dropped in mouth at each event)
6 weeks3 months15-months
(4 injections)
Diphtheria / Tetanus / Whooping cough / Polio
Measles / Mumps / Rubella
6 weeks3 months4-years
(2 injections)
Diphtheria / Tetanus / Whooping cough
6 weeks3 months11-years
(1 injection)
Human papillomavirus
2 doses, 6 months apart
6 weeks3 months12 yearsDiphtheria / Tetanus / Whooping cough
6 weeks3 monthsPregnancyInfluenza

Tips for the immunisation visit

Before and during the immunisation

1  Try to remain calm and relaxed, even if your child becomes upset.

2  Bring along a special toy or blanket for your child to hold, or use it to distract them.

3  Hold your child firmly during the procedure, talking calmly and gently stroking the child’s arm or back to reassure them.

After the immunisation

1  After the injection your child may cry for a brief time, it’s their way of coping.

2  Don’t rub the injection site.

3  Feeding your baby straight after their immunisation will help them settle.

4  You will need to remain in the clinic for 20 minutes after the immunisation. Most children experience little or no ill-effects after immunisations.

5  Some of the minor effects reported are mild fever, tenderness or swelling and redness at the site of the injection. An ice pack wrapped well in a dry, cool cloth can be held over the injection site if it is sore.

6  If your child gets hot, undress them down to a single layer, for example, a singlet and pants.

7  Make sure the room is not too hot or too cold.

Medication for temperature or pain

1  If your child is miserable because of a fever or pain, consider using paracetamol or ibuprofen.

2  Do follow the dosage instructions on the bottle. It is dangerous to give more than recommended.

3    Giving paracetamol before and repeatedly after immunisation ‘just in case’ they feel unwell is NOT recommended and may interfere with the immune response.

For more information, visit the Immunisation Advisory Centre website or freephone 0800 IMMUNE (0800 466 863).

UPDATED in November 2017 with the most up-to-date information

more health tips from tots to teens:

What To Do When Fever Strikes

Winter Ills And Chills To Watch Out For

Spring Allergy Solutions For Kids

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