NZ 'not too flash' in immunisation report

13:16, Mar 03 2009

Kiwi babies are among the least vaccinated in the developed world, a new international report reveals.

The Unicef report, the State of the World's Children, showed New Zealand was on a par or ahead of the world on several counts for child wellbeing, including infant mortality, but it exposed the nation's low ranking for immunisations.

Of the six immunisations for one-year-old babies, New Zealand was well below the developed world average for four of them. It equalled the others.

In the worst example, only 79 per cent of one-year-olds had received immunisation against measles. In the developed world, 98 per cent had received it by that age and in the least developed countries, 76 per cent had received it.

"We're pretty low. We're 33 out of 35 developed countries," Immunisation Advisory Centre research director Helen Petousis-Harris said.

"And certainly, compared with a lot of the developing countries which have mass campaigns, we don't come up too flash."


An Auckland University study showed poverty was a major factor where immunisation rates were low.

Misinformation about immunisation was "alive and well in New Zealand" and also played a part in the low rates, Petousis-Harris said.

The country's Third World rates of immunisation against measles were "too low to prevent ongoing epidemics", the Ministry of Health said. It has pinned some of the blame on more families with two working parents not having the time to immunise their babies.

The chief adviser on child and youth health for the Ministry of Health, Dr Pat Tuohy, said the Unicef figures were "substantially correct".

"The current coverage rate for measles is too low to prevent ongoing epidemics," Tuohy said.

Publicity suggesting, incorrectly, that the measles vaccination caused autism had hit the rates of immunisation.

"We are aware that some barriers remain even though immunisation is free," Tuohy said.

"For example, in the situation where both parents are working, they can find it difficult to get their children immunised because their only free time to do so is after-hours or on Saturday mornings."

Since the Government made improving immunisation coverage one of 10 health targets in July 2007, there had been a "dramatic" 9 per cent increase in immunisation rates, Tuohy said.

However, Petousis-Harris said the Government was still a long way off its aim of having 95 per cent of babies fully immunised by age two.

"We just haven't got there. We've got a lot of things that we need to be working on to do better," she said.

"Immunisations generally don't go to people, people have to go to the immunisations."

Whooping cough (pertussis), a disease particularly severe on small babies, was on the rise because of the poor rates of immunisation.

"There's a lot of hospitalisations and we have one death a year from that disease," Petousis-Harris said.

The Unicef report showed New Zealand lagging the developed world (98 per cent) by 7 percentage points for rates of immunisation against pertussis.

The improvement in New Zealand's under-five child mortality rates from 21 per cent in 1970 to 11 per cent in 1990 to 6 per cent in 2007 fell almost perfectly in line with the developed world.

A child mortality rate of 6 per cent put the country on a par with Britain, Australia and Canada but behind Israel, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

The mortality rate for under-one-year-olds had also fallen from 9 per cent in 1990 to 5 per cent in 2007.

The Press