Protecting your family from disease

From birth, our bodies come into contact with many thousands of germs, including bacteria and viruses, that can cause harmful diseases.

Babies and young children often get sick because their immune systems have not seen these germs before and take longer to fight infections.


All vaccines offered in New Zealand are tested thoroughly and monitored for safety.

Immunisation is the most effective way to protect you and your child from several preventable diseases. Vaccines contain weakened forms or parts of a germ, and teach the body to recognise and quickly stop infection. When the real germ enters the body, the immune system is able to kill it rapidly before your child becomes unwell.

Vaccines are much safer than diseases. All vaccines offered in New Zealand are tested thoroughly and monitored for safety. Generally, a mild response is seen following vaccination, including redness and swelling at the injection site, mild fever and tiredness. Babies may be a bit irritable for a few days following vaccination.

Vaccines for children in New Zealand

New Zealand’s National Immunisation Schedule helps to provide the best protection to young children and the community through a series of vaccines. The first vaccine dose is given at six weeks of age, then at three months, five months and 15 months. To maintain protection, vaccine boosters are given before school at four years and at 11 years of age.

These vaccines are free to children up to the age of 18 years. Childhood immunisation protects against a number of diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis (whooping cough), polio and hepatitis B. At 12 years of age, girls are also immunised against human papillomavirus – this vaccine may be given at school.

A catch-up programme is recommended for children born outside of New Zealand. Your child may have received some vaccines already, but could have missed some of the vaccines available in New Zealand – for example, hepatitis B – or may not be fully protected. Discuss your child’s immunisation record with your health professional.

If you have come from a region with high rates of tuberculosis (TB), your children may be offered the BCG vaccine.

Hepatitis B is more common in some countries, including in the Asia-Pacific region. The hepatitis B vaccine is free for all children up to the age of 18 years. Babies of infected mothers may be given a dose of the vaccine at birth.

As well as providing protection to your children within New Zealand, being fully immunised may also protect them when visiting family or on holiday overseas. Immunisation reduces the risk of bringing diseases, such as measles, into New Zealand.

Vaccines are also available for adults. Adults who have not been immunised previously can also receive some vaccines for free. For all adults, booster doses of the diphtheria-tetanus vaccine are free at 45 and 65 years of age.

Immunisation and vaccines

To find out more about immunisation and vaccines, talk to your health professional. You can also visit the University of Auckland's Immunisation Advisory Centre website or call the free phoneline:
0800 IMMUNE (466 863)

Vaccines for special groups in New Zealand

Some vaccines are funded for special groups of people with certain health conditions.

Two free vaccines are recommended during pregnancy. The whooping cough booster vaccine, given between weeks 28 and 36 of the pregnancy, provides protection from whooping cough to both the mother and her newborn baby. The influenza vaccine can be given at any time during pregnancy in the winter influenza season.

The seasonal influenza vaccine is available each year for anyone from six months of age. Many New Zealand employers provide the influenza vaccine to staff. This vaccine is free for people aged older than 65 years, people with certain medical conditions, and children aged under five years with a history of respiratory illness.

A varicella (chickenpox) vaccine is recommended from the age of 12 months for people who have not knowingly had chickenpox. Chickenpox is a very common childhood disease in New Zealand, however, if you have grown up in a country where chickenpox is uncommon, such as in the tropics, you may not have immunity to this disease. Chickenpox can be a very serious disease in adults. The vaccine is only funded for certain people to protect those at high risk of severe disease.

Making an informed choice about immunisation

It is important to protect yourself, your family and the community from disease. Talk to your health professional to discuss your family’s immunisation needs and concerns, especially for young children, pregnant women or those at high risk from infections, as there are several free vaccines available. Health professionals may include your doctor, practice nurse, Well Child provider, Plunket nurse, pharmacist and midwife.

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