By Rachel Browne,
A global report into the health and welfare of the world’s children has found Australian immunisation rates are lower than those of many developing countries, including Eritrea, Rwanda and Bangladesh.
Disability is the focus of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2013 report, which examines a broad range of areas such as health, education and child protection in almost 200 countries.
Australia compares unfavourably to many countries on immunisation.
Immunization coverage in Australia is 94 per cent for measles and 92 per cent for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and Hib, which causes infant meningitis.
This puts it behind countries such as Bangladesh, which has comparable coverage rates of between 96-99 per cent, Eritrea with 99 per cent and Rwanda, which has rates between 93-98 per cent.
While Australia’s vaccination rate for measles is higher than the global average of 85 per cent, it is below the east Asia-Pacific average of 95 per cent.
There have been mass immunization campaigns in developing countries, sponsored by philanthropic organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
David Durrheim, professor of public health medicine at the University of Newcastle, said Australians were taking widespread immunity for granted.
”Because we are rarely confronted with the horror of these diseases, our community may be becoming complacent,” he said. ”This is dangerous as unless high levels of vaccination are continually maintained, susceptible children will be placed at the risk of preventable disease and deaths.”
Developing countries are using vaccination as a widespread means of controlling disease outbreaks.
”Some developing countries with weaker primary healthcare systems make very effective use of mass-immunization campaigns to vaccinate hard-to-reach children, and if these campaigns are well planned then high coverage is achieved,” Dr Durrheim said.
The report, to be released in Vietnam on Thursday, comes days after the NSW government moved to force parents to vaccinate their children or register for an exemption to enroll them for childcare.
Victorian Health Minister David Davis is awaiting the advice of an expert panel he convened earlier this month before considering any initiatives. At present, the vaccination status of all Victorian children must be reported to their childcare centre or school. When an outbreak occurs, those who are not vaccinated are banned from attending for a time.
Claire, from Melbourne, researched both sides of the debate, deciding not to vaccinate her children, aged four, seven and 10. ”You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” she said.
”I think the risks with immunizing are scarier than the risks of not immunizing.” She said she may consider immunization in the case of a disease outbreak, but did not believe the diseases vaccinated against in Australia justified the risk of immunizing her children.