While focus has primarily been on children and the vociferous anti-vaccination lobby, a large proportion of adolescent and adult Australians still remain undervaccinated
In an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Robert Menzies from the University of New South Wales along with co-authors have argued that there hasn’t been enough focus on low uptake of vaccination in adults.
“In recent years, there has been increasing attention on parents who actively refuse to vaccinate their children,” they write.
“The abolition of the conscientious objection process has been championed in sections of the media and by some advocacy groups.
“These measures, however, do not address the vast numbers of undervaccinated adults.”
The researchers from UNSW and the University of Sydney estimate that there are about 4.1 million undervaccinated Australians each year, i.e. people who eligible to receive free vaccine(s) under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) but do not receive them.
“Of these, the children of parents with ideological objections to vaccination are a small subset; the vast majority are adults,” they argue.
This includes about 3.5 million Australians aged ≥ 65 years, all of whom are eligible for pneumococcal and annual influenza vaccines.
However latest measurements show only 51% of this population received both vaccines.
Perceptions about the severity of influenza, effectiveness of currently available vaccines, and severity of side effects are associated with the likelihood of being vaccinated, the authors suggest.
And the most important factor influencing vaccination uptake in older patients is a recommendation from a health professional.
“Immunisation is just as important for adolescents, older people, those with medical risk factors, pregnant women and other high-risk groups as it is for children,” say the authors.
“Low rates of adult vaccination are a concern for two reasons: for the individuals themselves, because they’re missing out on prevention of diseases. And secondly for the community as a whole because of the way disease is transmitted,” explains co-author Professor Raina MacIntyre from UNSW.
“Anyone over 65 is recommended for influenza and pneumococcal vaccination, as the risk of infection increases with age.
There is also undervaccination in adolescents, with three-dose completion of the HPV vaccine course in girls currently at 73%.
Professor MacIntyre says “we could be doing a lot better”.
“Vaccination rates in teenagers are not as good as children – it’s at about 73%, compared to 93% in children. We could be doing a lot better, particularly because we’re trying to prevent cervical cancer in young women.”
The MJA article comes out at the same time as the Pharmacy Guild survey results that reveal more than six million Australians report they would be more likely to have a flu shot if it could be administered at a local pharmacy.
Professor MacIntyre believes influenza vaccination in pharmacies will help improve vaccination rates among adults.
“It actually makes it a bit easier to access them, and people don’t have to go to a GP to get vaccinated,” she tells AJP.
“It takes away a potential barrier and makes it a lot easier for people.”
See the full MJA article here.