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 safe and effective way of helping prevent 11 potentially serious diseases. Most of the vaccines combine protection against more than one disease, meaning less 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-old girls, there is also the HPV Immunisation Programme, a series of three injections over six months.

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 is often slow and we get 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 it 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. Vaccines don’t provide 100% protection to all people, 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.

whooping cough – a current outbreak

Pertussis (whooping cough) is one vaccine-preventable disease we’ve seen in increasingly large numbers over the last year, as well as measles. Whooping cough causes severe bouts of coughing, which may be accompanied by vomiting and a ‘whooping’ sound. It can last up to three months. Around seven out of 10 babies who catch whooping cough before the age of 6-months end up in hospital. Severe coughing can temporarily stop the oxygen supply to the brain (hypoxia). In around two 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 20% of adults with a persistent cough, lasting more that 2-3 weeks, have in fact got whooping cough. It is easy for adults and older children to pass on whooping cough to babies in their family. It is much harder to recognise whooping cough in adults, and very easy for them and older children to pass it on to the babies in their family.

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.


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.

chicken pox (varicella)

In a typical year, NZ is estimated to experience approximately 50,000 chicken pox infections, of which 150–200 result in hospitalisation, and one to two cases result in long term disability or death. There are two different varicella vaccines available, so the timing of the immunisation will depend upon which vaccine is given, but the earliest dose would be at  9-months.


age diseases covered and vaccines
6-weeks (2 injections)

3-months (2 injections)

5-months (2 injections)

Diphtheria / Tetanus / Whooping cough / Polio / Hepatitis B / Haemophilus influenzae type b
(3 injections)
Haemophilus influenzae type b
Measles / Mumps / Rubella / Pneumococcal
(2 injections)
Diphtheria / Tetanus / Whooping cough / Polio
Measles / Mumps / Rubella
(1 injection)
Diphtheria / Tetanus
Whooping cough
12 years
(girls only)
Human papillomavirus
3 doses given over 6 months


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 October 2014 with the most up-to-date information ***

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