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Polio eradication puts spotlight on immunisation

The New Zealand Medical Association has welcomed the news that the World Health Organisation has declared the Western Pacific, including New Zealand, to be polio free.

"This news is a victory for immunisation, because polio is a debilitating disease which can cause paralysis and permanent disability," said NZMA Chairman Dr Pippa MacKay. "High levels of immunisation are the key to eradicating this disease, and I am thrilled that this has been achieved."

"The next challenge is to boost immunisation rates for other diseases, as these rates have decreased markedly over the past few years. For example, New Zealand children can be immunised free against nine vaccine-preventable diseases, but yet, out of seven Pacific nations, we come sixth behind Niue, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu in our whooping cough immunisation rates. If all New Zealand infants had been immunised in time for whooping cough, the number of hospitalisations in recent years would have been greatly reduced."

The NZMA believes the General Practice team should be at the heart of plans to improve immunisation rates, as it has systems already in place to monitor, recall and service patients. A recent study in the New Zealand Medical Journal showed that a child who had a six-week check by a GP was significantly more likely to be immunised than a child who had a six-week check from any other health provider. Immunisation of children is free, under the Well Child and Under-Sixes programmes.

At present, many hard-to-reach children often miss out on immunisation. Dr MacKay said innovative approaches were needed, particularly to reach children from lower-socio economic families, who were often highly mobile.

The HFA and Ministry of Health are currently developing ways to improve immunisation rates, and are consulting with many organisations, including the NZMA.

Doctors support immunisation as a highly effective preventive health measure, where the risk of side-effects is totally outweighed by the benefits of protection against diseases that can threaten life and create serious long-term consequences.

ENDS

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