Vaccination rate 'dismal'

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 12:00 18/04/2011

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The Government's top scientist has lashed out at New Zealand's dismal childhood immunisation rates after a parliamentary Health Select Committee report has the country still languishing as one of the worst in the world.

Sir Peter Gluckman, a former paediatrician, told the Health Select Committee at an inquiry last month New Zealand's immunisation rates were still well below OECD levels and this was "concerning".

Speaking to the Manawatu Standard last night, he said there were three main reasons for New Zealand's poor immunisation record.

"There is a complacency because there haven't been any major epidemics in recent times in New Zealand, which is worrisome, and there is a middle-class New Zealand attitude that `other kids will be vaccinated but it's not necessary for mine to be'. Parents have been taken in by misinformation that immunisations can cause autism, which is a load of rubbish, and there is also a significant group of disadvantaged children whose families are committed to looking after them, but just don't have the information necessary to make the informed decisions."

Professor Gluckman said the view of parents that it was OK for children not to be immunised because most other children would be was dangerous.

"From my work as a paediatrician I've seen children with whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and it's not nice. Those bugs are still out there and can harm your child and we don't need to look that far back in our history to remember polio epidemics, influenza epidemics and the like," he said.

After a 2009 Unicef State of the World's Children report showed New Zealand ranked 33 out of 35 developed nations for measles vaccinations, little has so far been done to achieve measles eradication targets.

The only current national target for immunisation in New Zealand is to have 90 per cent of two-year-old infants fully immunised by July this year, and 95 per cent by July next year.

More than 90 per cent of the MidCentral region's two-year-olds had been immunised, with 541 of the 593 eligible two-year-olds in the region getting their jabs last quarter.

Ministry of Health figures showed about 5 per cent of parents object to childhood immunisation, while at least 95 per cent coverage was needed to prevent outbreaks of measles – the most infectious disease that could be prevented by vaccination.

While 91 per cent of two-year-olds had been immunised against measles by the end of last year, only 88 per cent of two-year-olds had completed all immunisations appropriate for that age group in the three months ending December.

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Those figures were significantly worse for children under six months.

Data released last year by the New Zealand Immunisation Advisory Centre showed only 41 per cent of infants received their first dose of vaccine at the scheduled age of six to eight weeks, and 75 per cent had their first dose by 11 weeks.

Information released by the Ministry of Health showed 69 per cent of children had received all three doses by six months. There are no targets for immunisation coverage rates for four and 11-year-olds.

The Health Select Committee said in its report last month there had been an improvement in the past year, but it was not enough.

"While rates of completion of immunisation for under-two-year-olds have improved markedly in more recent years, for decades New Zealand's completion rates have been lower than those in many developed and undeveloped countries."

The committee has moved to address what it calls a "poor record" by recommending the Ministry of Health introduce national targets for immunisation across infancy and older age groups.

It was also recommended to the Government that it require the Ministry of Health publish an annual review of immunisation figures.

The Ministry of Health could not be reached for comment yesterday.

- Manawatu Standard

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