Childhood vaccination rates rising

Childhood immunisation rates are higher than ever – but it’s no cause for complacency

New data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found that nationally, more children are fully immunised by the age of five than in the past, with 93.5% fully immunised in 2016-17.

This is up from 92.9% in 2015-6 and 90% in 2011-2, but still falls short of the national target of 95%.

And the considerable variation between local areas within the 31 Primary Health Networks is still cause for concern.

Nationally, 93.5% of all children aged five were fully immunised in 2016–17. All PHN areas achieved an immunisation rate of 90% or more, ranging from 96% in Western NSW to 90.6% in North Coast (NSW).

The percentage of five-year-olds fully immunised across local areas (SA3s), ranged from 98% in both Tumut-Tumbarumba (NSW) and Broken Hill & Far West (NSW) to 77.5% in Adelaide City.

There were 294 local areas (out of 325 reported) where the percentage of five-year-old children fully immunised was greater than or equal to 90%.

“The greatest improvement was seen in the Central Queensland, Wide Bay and Sunshine Coast PHN area, which rose from 91.6% in 2015–16 to 93.3% in 2016–17,” says AIHW spokesperson Tracy Dixon.

“Despite the majority of Australian children being immunised, it’s important that we don’t become complacent.

“We need to maintain high immunisation rates to protect the vulnerable groups in our community,” Ms Dixon said.

A new web update on human papillomavirus (HPV) also shows that in 2015–16, 80.1% of girls aged 15, and 74.1% of boys aged 15, were fully immunised against HPV. 

“HPV immunisation rates for girls varied across PHN areas, ranging from 85.6% of girls fully immunised in Central and Eastern Sydney to 69.2% in Tasmania,” Ms Dixon says.

The greatest improvements in HPV immunisation rates in girls was seen in Perth North rising from 70.2% in 2014–15 to 77.2% in 2015–16.

For boys, rates ranged from 83.5% in Murrumbidgee (NSW) to 62.5% in Tasmania. The National HPV Vaccination Program has been immunising adolescent girls since 2007 and was extended to boys in 2013.

Measles catchup

Meanwhile a new report from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) shows that over 43,000 10-to-19-year olds received a catch-up second dose of measles-containing vaccine in 2016.

It says most of these likely took place as a result of the federal government’s ‘No Jab No Pay’ policy. 

Dr Frank Beard, public health physician and head of coverage and surveillance at NCIRS, described the level of measles vaccination catch-up in adolescents and improved immunisation rates in younger children as important outcomes. 

“While Australia has been certified free of local measles, we need to maintain high immunisation rates as we are constantly at threat from measles coming into the country from overseas and spreading locally,” he says. 

“Measles catch-up vaccination in adolescents is particularly important, as recent outbreaks have disproportionately affected this age group due to inadequate vaccination.”

In the 2012 measles outbreak, the largest in Australia since 1997 (168 cases) arising as a result of a traveller returning from Thailand with measles, the 10- to 19-year-old age group was over-represented, accounting for almost one third of cases. 

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