Immunisation is the most effective way to actively protect your child from vaccine preventable diseases, such as whooping cough, tetanus and measles.
It is important to protect your family with immunisation
The body uses specialised immune system cells and generates small molecules called “antibodies” to fight infections, but very young children’s immune systems don’t have the experience to mount effective responses against germs. The first time we come across a germ, it takes a while for the immune response to get going, and in the mean time we get sick. The next time we come across the same germ, the body will be able to remember the infection and mount a much faster response.
Immunisation works in a similar way. Vaccines are made of components of the germ that can’t cause disease or from weakened versions of viruses. Through the delivery of a vaccine, the immune system is taught to respond to the harmless version of the germ so that it can respond quickly when faced with a real infection and stop us from getting sick. The vaccine doesn’t cause the disease, but teaches the immune system to recognise the invaders in the future.
Some of the diseases that we immunise against are very serious in young children. Some, like measles, are highly contagious and usually fairly mild, but pose a risk of serious complications. The safest and most effective way to ensure the good health of your child is to protect them from getting the diseases at all. The immunisation schedule is structured to provide the best protection for our children when they are most at risk. Starting at six weeks, children can be protected from the potentially dangerous diseases that they may encounter. It is very important to stick to the schedule – not immunising your child increases the risk of them getting the infection, and not keeping up to date with immunisations reduces the protection that the immunisation can provide.
Immunisation frequently asked questions
Why is it important to immunise my child?
Immunisation helps our children avoid many diseases that can seriously harm them. When a child is immunised the vaccines teach their immune system to respond to parts of germs that aren’t dangerous, or to weakened or inactive viruses that can’t cause disease. After immunisation, the immune system can generate specialised cells to fight the infection if they are exposed to the disease, preventing them from getting sick.
Some parents focus more on the (rare) side effects of immunisation than on the diseases that immunisation protects against. The risk of serious side effects from immunisation is very low compared to the risk of complications or death should a child contract one of the vaccine-preventable diseases.
Immunisation is an important way to actively protect your child from these dangerous diseases.
How well does immunisation work?
Immunisation works very well to prevent a wide range of serious diseases. Sometimes, immunisation isn’t completely successful and it doesn’t protect children completely. In cases like this, children can get the disease, but don’t get as sick as they would if they weren’t immunised. While vaccines can’t provide 100% protection to all people, the more people that are immunised, the less the diseases will spread through the population. The people who are protected against the disease can protect the people who aren’t by reducing their risk of exposure to the germs.
Why does New Zealand start immunisation at six weeks of age?
New Zealand brought forward the first dose of the Childhood Immunisation Schedule from three months of age to six weeks of age in 1984. This followed an outbreak of whooping cough (pertussis) which affected those under three months most severely so infants could start developing pertussis protection sooner.
Many countries start their immunisation schedule at four weeks of age but New Zealand starts at six weeks of age to coincide with the six week post-natal check for both mothers and babies.
Why immunise on time?
Young infants are particularly at risk of serious complications from some diseases such as whooping cough, pneumococcal disease and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib disease). Starting immunisation at six weeks begins to provide protection during the most vulnerable periods of childhood. Delaying or missing immunisations increases the risk of getting a disease and reduces the protection when it’s needed most.
How do vaccines work?
When germs invade the body, the immune system deals with them by producing protective cells and small molecules called ‘antibodies’. When we come across a germ for the first time, our immune is often slow to respond and we get sick. After the infection, however, the immune system remembers how to make the antibody so if we come into contact with the same germ again the immune system 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 natural immune system kicks in and produces the protective cells and antibodies to protect against the germ. Vaccines will not cause or give you the disease, but simply alert the immune system to recognise the invaders should they present again at a later stage.