Little jabs, big protection

Immunisation is the best way to help protect your family against a number of preventable diseases. This year there are quite a few important changes to the National Immunisation Schedule that will make that protection even better.

CHICKENPOX

People often think that chickenpox is a mild disease that is just part of growing up. However, even a mild case means keeping children home from school or daycare. It’s so infectious that any other children in the house are pretty much guaranteed to catch it too, so time off work can keep increasing. For some children, it can be very serious, and as pretty well every child in New Zealand will get chickenpox, there will be a significant number with serious consequences. Hundreds need hospital treatment every year, and a few of these are left with long-term disabilities or even die. Chicken-pox is particularly serious for anyone with immune system problems and if a pregnant mum catches it, chickenpox can affect their unborn baby. There’s been a good vaccine against chickenpox available for purchase for many years, but not on the Schedule. However, from 1 July 2017, all infants will get one dose for free at their 15 month immunisation visit. If you have children older than that, they can get the vaccine when they turn 11 years of age, if they haven’t already had the vaccine or had chickenpox itself. One dose will give a good level of protection. Parents can always choose to pay to get the vaccine if their child is older than 15 months, or to get a second dose to increase protection even further. This is a very welcome change and means your children, family, and community will enjoy life without the spots, skin infections, scars, or much worse outcomes of chickenpox. There are minor changes to other vaccines on the Schedule too, with new names and different dosages. Visit immune.org.nz to see the full Schedule.

HUMAN PAPILLOMAVIRUS (HPV)

HPVs are common viruses that can infect the skin on the inside and outside of your body. Some of these viruses are transmitted through sexual contact and can lead to cancer many years later, or genital warts. About four out of five people are infected with these sorts of HPV at some time in their lives, usually within the first two years of starting sexual activity. The cancers these viruses can cause include cancer of the cervix, other genital areas including the anus and penis, and cancers of the mouth and throat. From 1 January 2017, the HPV Immunisation Programme was extended to cover boys as well as girls. There is also a change in vaccine to Gardasil 9, which protects against more types of HPV viruses. Fortunately, too, we now know that when this vaccine is given to younger people, it is highly effective with just two injections, an important reason to get in early! If you miss the chance before the age of 15 years, you will need three injections. Everyone aged nine or older is eligible for the free vaccine before they turn 27. If they missed getting the vaccine at school, they can get it from their family doctor for free as well.

Don’t forget: IMMUNISATION DURING PREGNANCY

Receiving one booster vaccine against whooping cough (from 28 to 38 weeks of pregnancy) will help protect mums-to-be. Most importantly, antibodies travel across the placenta into her baby’s bloodstream and help protect the baby from severe whooping cough for up to eight weeks after birth.

Pregnant women who get influenza have a much higher risk of developing serious complications such as pneumonia, being admitted to hospital, experiencing premature labour, and/or delivery problems. They also have a higher risk of dying from influenza. The flu vaccine is free for pregnant women during the flu season. Infants of mothers vaccinated in pregnancy against influenza will get protection for those early few months of life when they are at particularly high risk of influenza.

Theo Brandt is the Communications Manager at The Immunisation Advisory Centre at The University of Auckland.
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