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Immunisation Critical To Improving NZers Health

19 June 2002

Immunisation Critical To Improving New Zealanders' Health

PROTECTING New Zealanders against diseases they can avoid through immunisation is critical if we are serious about better health status, the Ministry of Health says.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga, Director of Public Health, said it was well known that New Zealand's immunisation rates were low by international standards.

"All health providers funded by government must take notice of government policy, which is to promote immunisation. Any of these providers, whatever their profession, handing out inaccurate anti-immunisation literature should consider whether they are acting professionally and in the best interests of children.

"In raising this issue publicly it was not my intention to single out any particular group of health providers. Unfortunately some reporting has portrayed it as an issue solely for midwives.

"The evidence we have suggests that first immunisations, carried out when baby is six weeks old, are given to more than 90 per cent of children."

"After that, however, the rates fall off considerably. By the time our children are two, only two out of every three are fully immunised against the nine vaccine preventable diseases for which we recommend immunisation. The vaccines are on the schedule of childhood immunisation and are free. "

To be fully immunised children need to complete the recommended childhood immunisation schedule with vaccinations at 6 weeks, 3 months, 5 months, 15 months and four years.

Dr Tukuitonga said parents were very strongly motivated to do the best by their children in the time prior to and immediately after birth. "That is why lead maternity carers including doctors and midwives play such a critical role in giving new parents the information they need to make an informed decision."

"I regret that this issue has been portrayed as the responsibility of midwives. All of us involved in caring for children, and parents, have a part to play. "

Dr Tukuitonga said he was planning to meet midwives, as well as all other health professionals involved in caring for children, to agree on how best to improve children's immunisation rates and lower rates of disease.

"This has been a pressing issue for some time. I think the best way of making progress is by getting everyone round a table to discuss what we can all do to make sure it happens."


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