Iain Curry

Disease fear as immunisation rates among worst in nation

NOOSA and the Sunshine Coast hinterland have some of the worst rates of child immunisation in the country with warnings that the levels are low enough to increase the risk that some contagious diseases may spread.

Almost 77,000 children across Australia are not fully immunised with the Sunshine Coast having more than 1500 of them.

Parents choosing to use alternative medicine or who oppose vaccination on health grounds are being blamed for the region's lower rates of immunisation.

In recent times, Australia has experienced a whooping cough outbreak, with more than 24,000 people catching the disease last year.

Immunisation expert Julie Leask told News Ltd that parents who are suspicious of traditional medicine are more likely to object to vaccination.

Research on conscientious objectors to immunisation found the Sunshine Coast contained large numbers of parents who were opposed to vaccination.

The second Healthy Communities report from the National Health Performance Authority has found high rates of child immunisation, with more than 95% of children fully immunised in some local areas.

The report, Healthy Communities: Immunisation rates for children in 2011-12, breaks immunisation rates down into the 61 areas covered by the new network of Medicare Locals, as well as by about 325 smaller units of geography (called "statistical areas").

It measures the percentages of children who were considered fully immunised at 1year, 2 years and 5 years in 2011-12.

The report has found there were 32 of the 325 statistical areas in 2011-12 in which children who had not been fully immunised were most at risk of being exposed to contagious diseases such as measles and whooping cough.

In these areas, the percentages of children fully immunised were 85% or less in at least one of the three age groups.

In contrast, the percentages of children fully immunised were 95% or more in at least one of the three age groups in 77 of the 325 statistical areas.

The report shows there were a number of Medicare Local catchments where immunisation rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were very high.

At the same time, there were some other catchments where immunisation rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were low.

The report says immunisation is an important tool in the fight against contagious diseases.

Vaccination protects individuals against diseases such as measles, whooping cough and meningitis (when caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b).

It also protects those who are too young to be vaccinated, or who are more vulnerable to serious complications due to underlying medical conditions, by reducing the risk of spread across the community.

The report shows:
• There were much lower rates of children fully immunised at the oldest age group.

Among all 5 year olds, 23 of 61 Medicare Local catchments recorded less than 90% fully immunised. This was a much larger number of catchments than for all children aged 1 year (two out of 61 Medicare Local catchments) and 2 years (three out of 61 Medicare Local catchments)

• Percentages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children fully immunised were lower than for all children.

There were 12 Medicare Local catchments in which less than 80% of Indigenous children were fully immunised in at least one of the three age groups, compared to none for all children.

There were eight out of about 55 Medicare Local catchments where the percentages of Indigenous children who were fully immunised in one or more of the three age groups were 75% or lower

• Some Medicare Local catchments had several hundred children who were not fully immunised, and who could therefore catch and pass on infections to others. There are Medicare Local catchments where more than 1000 children aged 1 year, 2 years or 5 years are not fully immunised.

National Health Performance Authority CEO Dr Diane Watson said the report would help clinicians, health managers and others to work out where further work was most needed.

"The report shows we have done well to protect children in most local areas, and is intended to help local communities better target their efforts," Dr Watson said.

"The report also shows that while there are many areas where high percentages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are fully immunised, at the same time there are a number of other communities where Indigenous children are not benefiting from the full health protection that vaccines provide."

Areas where vaccinations rates are generally below 85%

10802 Kempsey - Nambucca NSW

11201 Richmond Valley - Coastal NSW

11202 Richmond Valley - Hinterland NSW

11703 Sydney Inner City NSW

11801 Eastern Suburbs - North NSW

12104 North Sydney - Mosman NSW

12201 Manly NSW

12401 Blue Mountains NSW

30501 Brisbane Inner Qld

30605 Tablelands (East) - Kuranda Qld

30910 Surfers Paradise Qld

31604 Nambour - Pomona Qld 

31605 Noosa Qld

31606 Sunshine Coast Hinterland Qld

40101 Adelaide City SA

40105 Norwood - Payneham - St Peters SA 

40202 Playford SA

40203 Port Adelaide - East SA

40301 Holdfast Bay SA

40402 Port Adelaide - West SA

50101 Augusta - Margaret River - Busselton WA

50402 Mundaring WA

50403 Swan WA

50502 Stirling WA

50602 Belmont - Victoria Park WA

50603 Canning WA

50604 Gosnells WA 

50702 Fremantle WA 

50806 Pilbara WA

70101 Darwin City NT

70102 Darwin Suburbs NT

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