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Low immunisation rates cause concern

BY SAM SACHDEVA
Last updated 05:00 13/02/2010

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New Zealand's poor immunisation rates are endangering children's lives, the chairman of a parliamentary inquiry into national immunisation levels says.

Submissions closed yesterday for the parliamentary health select committee's inquiry into immunisation rates.

The committee's chairman, National MP Paul Hutchison, said New Zealand's poor immunisation record was putting children at risk of death or illness from diseases that were preventable.

"Here we are, a country that provides immunisations for free and we aren't meeting the levels that would provide complete protection from diseases."

He said possible improvements could include greater publicity on vaccinations, providing nurses and GPs with more assistance and improving government immunisation records.

Immunisation Advisory Centre medical adviser Marguerite Dalton said the centre had been concerned about immunisation rates for some time.

She said complacency was to blame for the lack of focus on vaccinations.

"We're a lovely clean, green country, not a Third World place, so we don't see the diseases, and there's a lack of knowledge there."

Despite children's immunisations being free, some families struggled to find the time and money to visit a GP, she said.

"It's about the cost of getting there and finding the time if both parents are working, so it doesn't figure highly on their priorities," Dalton said.

Papanui GP Calder Botting, who contracted polio as an infant in 1943, said he was concerned about anti-immunisation groups with "misguided" concerns over the safety of vaccinations.

"I think they're a worry because I think they're a bit misinformed," he said.

The Ministry of Health's national immunisation register shows Canterbury was sixth out of the 21 district health boards for immunisation rates for two-year-olds in the year to July 2009.

Bexley mother Tania Taylor, who took her five-month-old son, George, for immunisation this week, said she was informed of the immunisation through a letter from her doctor, as well as in documents she received after she gave birth.

She wanted George to get his jabs as it was "not worth the risk of getting a really serious disease" that could be prevented.

"Some of my nephews got whooping cough, and that was really bad," she said.

Hutchison said the committee would have a series of hearings in the main centres.

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