The NSW North Coast continues to buck the national trend for an increasing uptake of early childhood vaccination, with the proportion of our fully immunised five-year-olds (90.3 per cent) being the lowest in Australia. The Gold Coast fared only one per cent better.
Postcodes show an even grimmer picture, with Byron Shire’s rate of fully immunised five-year-olds, 73.2 per cent, being the lowest rural-regional figure in Australia.
The latest statistics in the Australia Institute for Health and Welfare report Healthy Communities: Immunisation rates for children in 2015-16 show that a total of 1867 children between the ages of one and five years living within the boundary of the North Coast Primary Health Network (Tweed Heads to Port Macquarie) remain unimmunised. Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USMC-04975.jpg
According to the report, about 93 per cent of Australian five-year-olds were fully immunised in 2015-16, up three per cent since 2011-12, but still below the national target of 95%.
“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,” said AIHW spokesperson Michael Frost.
The report examines immunisation rates across Australia's 31 Primary Health Network (PHN) areas.
“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.
“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.
NSW Labor’s North Coast watcher Walt Secord raised his concern, saying legislation before the NSW Parliament - the Public Health Amendment (Vaccination of Children Attending Childcare Facilities) Bill 2017 - will be debated on June 22.
The centrepiece of the legislation is the removal of the so-called ‘conscientious objector’ provisions, which have been used as a loophole by anti-vaxxers.
“The bill will carry a maximum penalty of $5,500 for a principal or operator of a service and a family day care enrolling a child without a vaccination certificate or a certificate exempting them on medical grounds,” Mr Secord added.
“In recent months, there have been reports of patients presenting to NSW hospitals with vaccine preventable diseases like tetanus, whooping cough and measles. To have herd immunity, vaccination rates have to be above 95 per cent to protect those who cannot be vaccinated.
“Mothers in the developing world line-up for hours to protect their children, but we have mothers in Byron and Mullumbimby who put their own children and other children at risk. That is wrong.
“No one has the right to infect their own child or someone else’s child. Failing to vaccinate a child is irresponsible.
“Sadly, we are experiencing the re-appearance of diseases which we believed were eradicated. Measles and whooping cough outbreaks have been reported on the north coast.”