Compared to other countries, New Zealand has a low childhood immunisation rate, and the rates of immunisations among many age groups are falling. A low childhood immunisation rate means that there are regular outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Younger generations of New Zealanders have not witnessed serious diseases and the implications and after effects of these diseases. There are still New Zealanders alive today who have first-hand experience of illness and death associated with childhood diseases such as whooping cough, tetanus and diphtheria.
The New Zealand National Immunisation Schedule:
The National Immunisation Schedule is a program that starts when babies are six weeks old. The vaccinations and their boosters on the Schedule are free for babies, children, teenagers and adults. Babies and the elderly are most at risk of serious disease. This is the reason why the childhood immunisation schedule starts when babies are six weeks old, and vaccinations such as flu and shingles are funded for people over the age of 65.
Why vaccinate your child?
The Immunisation Schedule aim is to give people individual protection against serious diseases and prevent the spread of diseases. If enough of a population is vaccinated against a disease it is much harder for that disease to spread, and this is called ‘herd’ or ‘community’ immunity. Herd immunity gives protection to those who can’t be vaccinated such as the very young (babies under six weeks of age), the elderly, people with other medical conditions, people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, and people on immunosuppressant medication to prolong organ transplants. These groups all depend on high levels of immunity in their communities to decrease their chance of picking up infections.
There is a risk of serious diseases re-emerging if there are pockets of low vaccination coverage in our communities.
These childhood diseases can be mild to life-threatening. There is no way of telling whether your child will experience a mild or life-threatening case.
Why do vaccinations happen at particular ages?
There are specific recommended ages for when many vaccines are to be administered, and it is important to stick to these ages and time frames. Many vaccines need several doses to be given before effective immunity is developed by the body. A delayed or missed immunisation means that child is not protected against a disease. An unprotected child is a risk for others in the community where the child lives.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines use your body’s own built-in natural defences to build resistance to a particular disease. A vaccine contains either an inactive or weakened part (an antigen) from a bacteria or virus. When the body sees this foreign antigen, an immune response gets triggered. Our body makes a specific antibody to the vaccine antigen and remembers how to make the antibodies. Then if the body is ever exposed to the real antigen at a later time, it already knows how to make antibodies against it, makes them quickly and defeats the antigen, protecting us from the disease.
Babies and toddlers:
By the time a child is 15 months of age they will be covered against the following serious diseases:
- Pertussis (Whooping cough)
- Hepatitis B
- Haemophilus influenza type B (hib)
- Pneumococcal disease
- Meningococcal B disease
- Chicken pox.
Vaccinations are given at 6 weeks, 3 months, 5 months, 12 and 15 months of age. A flu vaccine is also available for babies aged over six months.
- At four years of age, children are given a single booster against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough.
- From five years of age children can receive Covid vaccines.
- From the age of nine, children can be vaccinated against Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
- From 11 years, they receive another booster for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.
- A yearly flu immunisation is funded until the age of 12 years.
- Covid vaccinations are free for school-aged children.
Speak to your doctor, nurse, midwife or pharmacist about whether you and your loved ones are protected against childhood diseases. These health professionals are able to look at an individual’s vaccination record and recommend if any vaccinations or boosters are needed. Sometimes catch-up vaccinations are needed to ensure a person is fully immunised.