Immunisation helps protect individuals and the community generally against potentially serious diseases such as measles, polio, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis). Although the great majority of children in Australia are immunised, it is important to maintain high immunisation rates to reduce the risk of outbreaks of these and other diseases recurring. When high percentages of people are fully immunised, diseases such as whooping cough have less opportunity to spread because there are fewer people who can be infected.
In addition, people who remain susceptible to infection – such as babies too young to be immunised and people with specific medical conditions that prevent them from being immunised – may be indirectly protected, as they are less likely to be exposed to disease.
The first report on rates of childhood immunisation from the National Health Performance Authority found high rates of child immunisation, with more than 95% of children fully immunised in some local areas. At the same time, there are still almost 77,000 children across Australia who are not fully immunised.
The report finds:
- 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
- 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 1,000 children aged 1 year, 2 years or 5 years are not fully immunised.