Child immunisation rates declining

Child immunisation

Child immunisation rates are going down. It is not really known why – or even if official figures are reliable.

Some say more parents are choosing not to have their children vaccinated.

The vaccinations parents are declining are the series of freebies on offer. They protect babies and children from illnesses like measles, chickenpox and polio.

New Ministry of Health data shows the proportion declining vaccines across all age groups up to 5 years old increased in the year to March.

Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said she would be surprised if the decline weren’t linked to Covid-19 vaccine disinformation. Much misinformation passes through ever-growing websites and social media platforms opposed to vaccines, she says.

Jabs by the number

  • Coverage for New Zealand children by age two was 83.7 percent for 12 months to June
  • In the year to March it was 84.4 percent
  • In the year to March, 6 percent of 18-month olds were not fully immunised. They were marked as “decline”. In June that proportion rose to 6.2 percent
  • For 2-year olds in March, 5.7 percent “declined” vaccination. In June the figure was 6 percent
  • The data translates to 300 fewer children being vaccinated across that age range in a three month period.  The Immunisation Advisory Centre’s medical director Nikki Turner can’t explain the change.

Misinformation is possible.  Or “vaccine fatigue” may have set in, she suggests.

Paediatrician Owen Sinclair doesn’t think the information is accurate. The data collection method was unreliable, he argues.

“It’s a system failure… the problem with low immunisation rates is the system – the anti-vax are an extremely small number of people.”

But immunisation rates are the lowest since records began. Sinclair’s afraid children will die of preventable disease.

“The 2019 measles outbreak in Samoa, the vaccine rate was 31 percent. In South Auckland, the six-month-old vaccine rate for Māori is also 31 percent.

“We’re looking down the barrel of an outbreak where children are completely undefended and we’re going to have an epidemic that kills lots of them.”

Paediatric researcher Anna Howe has more grim stats. Rates for whooping cough cover are as low as 45 percent for Māori.

She’s expecting the three- to four-yearly whooping cough outbreak sometime soon.

Like Sinclair, she’s most concerned about measles – and that we’ll export it to the Pacific as in 2019.

She’s also worried about “sub-optimal” maternal vaccine coverage for pregnant women.

They get free influenza, tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough vaccinations.

“The rate is about 47 percent at the moment. The whooping cough cover the mother gets [from the vaccine] protects baby for the first six weeks of its life, when they’re most at risk.”

Moving forward

Turner thinks the best options are to be non-judgemental, engaged with communities and for services to be well-funded.

“It’s harder work but in the long-term you gain a community that’s more cohesive and trusting,” she says.

Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

Tags: ,