AHPRA has reminded health practitioners about their responsibility to support public health programs like vaccination, as measles and flu cases rise
The regulators spoke out on Wednesday in order to support public safety, given mounting concerns about a five-year high in measles cases, and an early surge in laboratory confirmed influenza cases in 2019.
There have been a total of 39,128 laboratory confirmed notifications of Influenza in Australia for 2019, at the start of 6 May.
Meanwhile the latest cases of measles include that of a 25-year-old woman who flew into Australia from the Philippines on Thursday, landing in Melbourne and then flying to Tasmania.
She was infectious at the Devonport Airport on Friday morning and the Victoria Street Clinic in Ulverstone on Saturday.
In early April, Health Minister Greg Hunt expressed concern about the number of measles cases being notified in Australia.
“As at 5 April 2019, there had been 83 measles notifications in 2019, compared with 103 for the whole of 2018 and 81 for the whole of 2017,” he said.
“I am concerned about the recent increases in measles cases in Australia and want to make sure our community is well protected against this very serious disease.”
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency and the National Boards for 16 professions, including the Pharmacy Board, have urged Australia’s health practitioners to take their responsibility for public health seriously, including by helping patients be protected against preventable illnesses like flu and measles.
AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher reminded practitioners that supporting public health programs, including vaccination and immunisation, and not promoting anti-vaccination views were regulatory responsibilities.
“Registered health practitioners have a regulatory responsibility to support patients to understand the evidence-based information available,” Mr Fletcher said.
In the past, some medical practitioners have come under scrutiny for their attitude to vaccination, such as in the case of one doctor who was suspended in 2017 following allegations that he had helped patients avoid compulsory immunisations.
National Boards and AHPRA state that they have taken action to manage risk to the public, in response to a number of concerns raised about practitioners (including medical practitioners, nurses and chiropractors) who have advocated against evidence-based vaccination programs. This has included restricting practitioners’ practice pending further investigation, when there was a serious risk to the public.
“Practitioners are of course entitled to hold personal beliefs, but they must ensure that they do not contradict or counter public health campaigns, including about the efficacy or safety of public health initiatives,” Mr Fletcher said.
Regulatory action to manage public health risk has included requiring a practitioner to remove comments or material from websites, restricting practitioners from promulgating non-evidence based anti-vaccination material and cautioning practitioners against publicly advocating a position that is not evidence-based.
“We take seriously any case of practitioners spreading dangerous and misleading anti-vaccination information including on social media,” Mr Fletcher said.
“They will face regulatory action or prosecution. We are asking the public to tell us if their practitioner is doing this. If you raise your concerns with us we can investigate and protect others.”
Meanwhile, measles cases continue to rise internationally.
Between 1 January and 12 April 2019, 31,056 measles cases including 415 deaths were officially reported through the routine surveillance system from the Philippines’ Department of Health.
The US is also seeing a rise in cases, with the number in New York City alone reaching 466 since the outbreak began in October 2018, according to the New York Post.
In early May, the US’ Food and Drug Administration issued new advice urging Americans to be vaccinated against measles.
“The measles virus is very skillful at finding vulnerable people and infecting them,” it warned.
“Particularly at risk are people who cannot get vaccinated because they are too young or have certain health conditions.
“After an infected person leaves a location, the virus can remain in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours and infect others. Measles spreads so easily that if one person has it, 90% of the people close to that person who are not vaccinated or otherwise immune will also become infected.”