Immunisation Overview

Immunisation Overview

Immunisation on time is the most effective way to protect pregnant mums, babies and children from preventable disease.

Immunisation and how it works | Ministry of Health NZ

Immunisation and how it works.
A Ministry of Health and Health Promotion Agency video - transcript available on the Ministry of Health website.


Key points about immunisation

  • immunisation protects your child against a range of 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

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 has wiped out some of the killer diseases of childhood in New Zealand.

  • tetanus is very rare - although it still happens in children who haven't been immunised
  • New Zealand is free of polio and diphtheria

But, these diseases still exist in other countries.

In this video, a paediatrician briefly talks about the importance of immunisation., and a family talk about their experience of immunisation (Auckland, Northland, Waitemata and Counties Manukau DHBs).

Watch a series of 10 short videos answering your questions about immunisation

Watch some short videos about protecting your child from serious diseases

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
  • mumps

The following diseases have also been having a significant impact in our communities:

  • pneumococcal disease
  • chickenpox

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

  • chickenpox (varicella)
  • diphtheria
  • hepatitis B
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • measles
  • meningococcal disease type B
  • mumps
  • pneumococcal disease
  • polio
  • rotavirus
  • rubella
  • tetanus
  • whooping cough (also known as pertussis)
  • human papillomavirus (HPV)

Immunising tamariki in Aotearoa against these diseases keeps them safe. These diseases cause serious illnesses, or cancers later in life. Children still die from some of these diseases. 

Immunisation protects your child. It also protects those most at risk from these diseases. This includes babies who are too young for immunisation or children with weakened immune systems. These babies and children rely on those around them being immunised.

Where to go for immunisation

The practice nurse at your family doctor's surgery can immunise your child.

The National Immunisation Schedule

Immunisation schedule poster

Te whakatō i te kano ārai mate – te ārai tino pai

The National Immunisation Schedule is the series of immunisations that are free for babies, children and teens (and adults). The Schedule lists the immunisations and the age your child can have them.

You can see the current schedule on the Ministry of Health website.

It is important that your child has their full course for continuing strong protection. Children need immunisations on time as delaying them leaves them at unnecessary risk of infection.

Some children may have special requirements. For example, some babies with specific risk factors can have:

  • hepatitis B immunisation at birth - for all babies whose mothers have hepatitis B
  • BCG immunisation to protect against tuberculosis
  • meningococcal immunisation for those at increased risk of types A, C, Y and W 

Discuss your own child's needs with your doctor.

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

After the immunisation, your child may cry for a brief time. This is their way of coping - comfort and hold your child, and talk supportively.

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
  • breastfeeding reduces 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 your child's arm or back
  • after the immunisation, your child may cry for a brief time but this is their way of coping - comfort and hold your child, 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

Reactions to immunisation

Children can have reactions to immunisations. Most 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. But, if you are concerned, contact your nurse or doctor.

Paracetamol and immunisation

Children are more likely to get a fever or a high fever after immunisation with MenB (Bexsero). When your baby has their MenB vaccine, paracetamol can help lower any fever and make them more comfortable.

Find out more about paracetamol and meningococcal immunisation.  

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?

Discuss any questions or concerns with your family doctor or practice nurse.

This page last reviewed 27 February 2023.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it