Child immunisation rates at highest, with disease rates down

Childhood immunisation rates are at their highest levels ever, with disease rates down as a consequence, according to a report released today by the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (NCIRS), based at the Children's Hospital at Westmead and the University of Sydney, and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Vaccination Coverage in Australia 2001-2002 shows that by the end of 2003, levels of full immunisation were nearly 95% at 12 months of age, and reached 90% at 24 months of age, in line with national target rates.

Report co-author Professor Peter McIntyre (Director of NCIRS), says that incidence of the eight diseases covered by four vaccines on the routine childhood schedule prior to 2002 have all been decreasing, in line with the improvements in immunisation levels. The diseases and relevant vaccines are diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough (DTP vaccine; Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib vaccine); measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR vaccine) and polio.

'There was an overall decline in all 8 diseases, from an average of 8046 cases per year in 1997-2000 to 7806 cases per year in 2001-02, with Australia remaining polio free,' Professor McIntyre said.

'The lowest notifications on record in Australia occurred in 2001-02 for four of the diseases-measles, mumps, rubella and Hib. This reduction in the number of cases has been largely due to the combined efforts of government, health care providers and the public in recognising the importance of these diseases and in implementing and taking up immunisation programs appropriate for our needs.'

However, the report highlights some future challenges for Australia, in particular whooping cough, in the wake of an epidemic in 2001 when incidence rose sharply and 6 deaths were recorded.

'Whooping cough remains a challenge to control because while immunised children are protected, adolescents and adults continue to spread the infection, often without realising it- immunisation rates were low in the past and the vaccine wears off. Babies under 6 months, too young to be fully immunised, therefore remain at risk,' Professor McIntyre said.

Recent changes to vaccine recommendations should help to reduce whooping cough in the future - these include a whooping cough booster vaccine provided for teenagers, and recommended for new or intending parents.

Other challenges identified in the report include:

o high rates of influenza notifications and hospitalisation in young children;

o relatively high rates of measles, mumps, rubella and Hepatitis B in young adults, many of whom have not been vaccinated.

Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Vaccination Coverage in Australia 2001-2002 was compiled using National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance Scheme data from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, as well as AIHW data.

11 March 2005

Further information: Prof Peter McIntyre, NCIRS, tel. 02 9845 1257, or 02 9845 3075.

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.