New data shows that Australia’s childhood vaccination rates are slipping
The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth has released its 2018 Report Card: the wellbeing of young Australians, which tracks how young people are faring against other nations on 75 indicators of health and wellbeing.
One of these indicators is vaccination, and the report showed that the proportion of children aged two who are fully immunised fell from 92.7% in 2008 to 90.5% in December 2017.
In 2015 Australia ranked near the bottom of the OECD for measles immunisation (at number 33 of 35 nations) and at number 31 of 35 for whooping cough vaccination.
AMA national president Dr Michael Gannon told 6PR Perth Live’s Oliver Peterson that he is “inclined to tear my hair out” over the issue of vaccine refusal among parents and carers, as well as the adult population more generally.
He said the criticism of vaccination and drop in rates is “hugely disappointing” and “makes no sense”.
“What we’ve witnessed in Australia in recent months are loud yells to license a meningococcal vaccine, and at the same time we’re seeing a drop in the number of people protecting themselves against other, less visible forms of viral and bacterial infection,” he said.
“I think that in fairness, the Government, the Health Department, and I can tell you the profession, we’re wringing our hands trying to work out what exactly we need to do to get the message through to people.”
He said that there is “not a single credible voice anywhere on the planet that argues against national immunisation programs like we enjoy in Australia and in other developed nations”.
“It is utterly ridiculous that we see this laziness. I don’t think that it’s the lunacy of the anti-vaccination movement that’s getting hold of people, but I think in the backs of minds of a lot of people, they listen to these negative health messages from non-reputable sources and then maybe, just maybe, that contributes to people not making the time, not making the effort to get there and get their kids vaccinated.”
RACGP president Dr Bastian Seidel also weighed into the debate, following the introduction of Victorian laws designed to shut down “rogue medical practitioners” who could until recently make false statements about a child’s ability to be vaccinated.
In 2017 mainstream media reported on an anti-vaccination “underground network” among GPs who were allegedly helping families avoid vaccination and subsequent consequences of Victoria’s “no jab, no pay” policies. These doctors were then the subject of an investigation by state and national authorities.
Dr Seidel said that anti-vaccination messages have “absolutely no place” in general practice.
“It is vital all Australians are fully vaccinated,” Dr Seidel said.
Chair of RACGP Victoria Dr Cameron Loy said, while some parents may have concerns stemming from reading misleading immunisation information, anti-vaccination messages are dangerous and are not supported by the RACGP.
Meanwhile, the ACT has become the latest jurisdiction to announce free flu vaccines for children aged between six months and five years.
Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris said the vaccines will be available from any of the 10 ACT Maternal and Child Health Immunisation Clinics or from GPs, from April 2018.
“Offering this free vaccine for children between six months and five years will ensure more people, particularly those at greatest risk, are protected from the flu this winter,” said Minister Fitzharris.
“While we would have preferred to see the Federal Government step up to the plate and put this on the National Immunisation Program, the ACT will take action and join other states, including Victoria, NSW and Queensland, in offering the vaccination for free to young children.
“Last year’s flu season was particularly bad, and unfortunately, children under five years were most affected, with two out of every 100 children aged less than five years notified to ACT Health with influenza infection during 2017.
“We are focusing on children under five as they are at an increased risk of flu-related complications including middle ear infection, pneumonia and seizures. Influenza can also be fatal, even in healthy children.”
More key findings from the Report Card were that the rate of mental illness is growing among young Australians, with 15.4% of Australians aged 18 to 24 years suffering high or very high psychological distress in 2014-5. This was up from 11.8% in 2011.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth were over three times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous youth and more than three times more likely to die of injury before the age of 14.
Smoking rates among young people are the lowest in the developed world, and Australia continues to lead in areas such as life expectancy at birth and the amount of time parents spend with their children each day.