Northern Rivers immunisation rates still too low

UPDATE 12.40pm: THE North Coast Primary Health Network's Senior Project Officer Tiffany Sullivan has said the 2481 postcode which includes Byron Bay, Suffolk Park, Myocum and Skinners Shoot has a disappointing 73.2% immunisation rate for five-year-olds.

Ms Sullivan said that local immunisation information was helpful so that health system managers could understand what's happening in different communities and where improvements were needed.

"Immunisation is a safe and effective way of reducing the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases in the community and protecting against potentially serious health problems," she said.

"Even though most Australian kids are immunised, it's important to maintain high immunisation rates to protect the community, including vulnerable groups such as babies who are too young to receive their vaccines".

 

THURSDAY 11.45am: POST codes on the Northern Rivers remain amongst the lowest when it comes to children's immunisation rates.

But in good news for the health of the region's children, these rates are slowly on the improve.

A new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reveals while the proportion of Australian children who are fully immunised continues to rise, a significant variation remains across local communities, with anti-vax hot spots Byron Bay and Suffolk Park having the lowest rates.

The report, Healthy Communities: Immunisation rates for children in 2015-16, showed about 93% of Australian 5 year olds were fully immunised in 2015-16.

This was up from 90% in 2011-12, but still below the national target of 95%.

AIHW spokesman Michael Frost urged people to care for their children and immunise.

"Immunisation is a safe and effective way of reducing the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases in the community and protecting against potentially serious health problems," he said.

The report examines immunisation rates across Australia's 31 Primary Health Network (PHN) areas which connect health services over local geographic areas.

The report, Healthy Communities: Immunisation rates for children in 2015-16, shows while 93% of Australian 5-year-olds were fully immunised, the Northern Rivers still has unacceptably low rates.
TOO LOW: The report, Healthy Communities: Immunisation rates for children in 2015-16, shows while 93% of Australian 5-year-olds were fully immunised, the Northern Rivers still has unacceptably low rates. Supplied AIHW

"The good news is that for the first time, all 31 of Australia's PHN areas now have immunisation rates for five year olds above 90%," Mr Frost said.

"And the gap we see between the areas with the highest and lowest immunisation rates has started to shrink."

However, the report shows that differences remain across PHN areas as the proportion of fully immunised 5-year olds was highest in Western NSW and Murrumbidgee (NSW) at 96%, while North Coast (NSW) (90%), Perth North (91%), Perth South (91%) and Gold Coast (91%) had the lowest rates.

"When looking at smaller areas, like postcode areas, we see much greater variation in immunisation rates, from a high of almost 100% and a low of 71% for fully immunised 5 year olds," Mr Frost said.

He said releasing local immunisation information could help local health system managers understand what was happening in their community and where improvements were needed.

"Even though the majority of Australian kids are immunised, it's important to maintain high immunisation rates to protect the community, including vulnerable groups such as babies who are too young to receive their vaccines," Mr Frost said.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia's president, Dr Ewen McPhee, said the increase was positive.

"The RDA would like to get the message out to parents that immunisation does saves lives," he said.

"It's so important children in rural areas where there's limited access to emergency treatment and specialists,"

Dr McPhee said he had personal experience of working on children's wards where young patients were suffering from brain damage and other disabilities caused by severe measles, which could have been prevented by vaccination.

"As people become more complacent, life-threatening diseases such as epiglottitis are making a comeback," he said.

"People's complacency comes out of other people taking responsibility, as herd immunity drops these diseases come back."