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Factsheet: Childhood Vaccinations


What is immunisation?
Immunisation is the use of vaccines to protect against certain diseases caused by viruses or bacteria. A vaccine contains either inactive or weakened versions of the virus or bacteria it is protecting against. The body recognises these vaccines as foreign, and mounts an immune response against them, forming antibodies that will protect you if you are exposed to the actual infection.

Why is it important to vaccinate my child?
Firstly because it will give your child protection against several  specific diseases - many of which can be very serious and even life-threatening. Secondly, it is important for the community to have as many people vaccinated as possible. This prevents the spread of infections to other people within the community who may be more vulnerable - e.g. people who are unwell, or unable to be vaccinated. In populations where vaccine rates are high, some of these diseases have been almost eradicated and death rates in children markedly reduced as a result. Unfortunately, New Zealand's immunisation rate is not high compared to some other countries.

Can my child get immunity any other way?
Yes - some antibodies pass through breast milk to babies, but unfortunately these do not usually protect against the serious infections included in the vaccination programme, and they only last for a few weeks or months. It is also possible to get immunity through exposure to the virus or bacteria, but that usually means contracting the disease and becoming unwell.

Are the vaccinations used in NZ safe for my child?
Vaccines have to undergo rigorous testing before they can be used. Some children will have minor reactions to vaccines, but serious reactions (such as anaphylaxis) are very rare. To reduce the risk of any serious reaction, you will be asked to wait at your Dr's surgery for some time after the immunisation so your child can be monitored for any problems.
It is important to remember that the risk from any of these diseases is far greater than the risk of becoming unwell from one of the vaccinations used. A good example of this is the measles vaccine - 1 child per million may get brain swelling after the vaccination, but 1 in a 1000 children will get this from the actual disease itself.

What are the commonest reactions?
It is quite normal to see redness or inflammation around the injection site and this can be quite uncomfortable. Some children will develop a low grade fever, and some will be a little more irritable than usual. Extra reassurance, cold flannels and paracetamol are usually all that is required. If your child is more unwell than this, or has a high fever or a rash, you should ask your Dr for advice.

Are there any contraindications to vaccination?
Yes - some people are unable to be vaccinated. This includes anyone who has had a serious reaction, or anaphylaxis, to part of that vaccine before. It also includes people who may be immunosuppressed (e.g. on chemotherapy or seriously unwell), or live with someone who may be. If your child is unwell on the day of vaccination, you may be asked to rebook for later date - this does not include coughs and colds, but if they are more seriously unwell or have a temperature over 38 degrees, it is sensible to delay immunising them.

What is the current schedule for childhood vaccinations in NZ?
6 weeks (even if born prematurely), 3 months, 5 months:
-  Diphtheria/Tetanus/Acellular pertussis/Inactivated polio
-  Haemophilus influenza type B
-  Hepatitis B
-  Pneumococcal disease vaccine

15 months:
-  Measles/Mumps/Rubella
-  Haemophilus influenza type B
-  Pneumococcal disease vaccine

Pre-school:
-  Measles/Mumps/Rubella
-  Diphtheria/Tetanus/Acellular pertussis/Inactivated polio

11 years:
-  Adult tetanus/Diphtheria/Acellular pertussis

12 years (girls only):
-  Human Papilloma Virus immunisation (Gardasil) - 3 injections over 6 months. Funded up to the age of 20 yrs
Boosters for tetanus and diphtheria are available at 45 and 65 years old.

Will my baby be immunised against TB (tuberculosis)?
The BCG vaccine protects against TB, and is only offered to high risk groups. This includes:
-  Children living in a house with a TB sufferer
-  Children who will live for 3 months or more in a "high risk" country during their first 5 years of life (this includes many of the Pacific Islands)
-  Children living with a household member who has spent 6 months or more in a "high risk" country in the last 5 years.

This vaccine will be offered shortly after birth if your baby is in one of these groups. If you are not sure, ask your Dr for a referral to your local BCG clinic.

What disease am I protecting against?
Diphtheria - a bacterial infection primarily affecting the throat. Although rare now, it can lead to breathing, swallowing difficulties, paralysis, heart failure and death.
Tetanus - a bacteria found in soil, and picked up through dirty skin wounds. It causes stiffness in muscles and can be life-threatening if the breathing muscles are affected.
Pertussis - this causes whooping cough, a bacterial infection of the airways and chest. The coughing can be so severe it leads to breathing problems. Serious complications can occur, especially in younger children, resulting in pneumonia, fits, inflammation or damage to the brain and death.
Hepatitis B - this virus infects the liver, causing jaundice, fever, fatigue and nausea. Some people will become "carriers" of hepatitis B, which can mean they are at higher risk of liver disease or cancer in later life. It is especially common in Maori, Pacific Islanders and some Asian groups.
Haemophilus influenza type B - this serious bacterial infection can cause meningitis, epiglottitis and pneumonia. Children who get HIB meningitis have a 3% chance of dying, and those who survive have a high rate of brain damage and disability.
Poliomyelitis - this virus is now very rare worldwide, due to the success of the vaccination programme. However, there have been some outbreaks recently in some parts of the world, so unvaccinated travellers may be at risk. It affects the nerves, leading to paralysis and permanent damage.
Measles - a very contagious infection that can lead to serious complications including brain inflammation, pneumonia and seizures.
Mumps - this is also very common and causes fever, headache and swelling of the parotid glands around the face. In older children, it can infect the testes, leading to fertility problems. Rarely it can lead to deafness too.
Rubella - known as German measles, this infection is a problem for pregnant women as it can cause serious damage to the unborn baby.
Tuberculosis - this bacteria can infect any part of the body, and typically presents with fever, cough and malaise. It can re-activate in later life, and can be fatal.

For more information on childhood vaccinations, call the helpline on 0800 466863 (0800immune)
Or visit the website www.immune.org.nz

(TX: 9 August 2011)


 


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