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Immunisation Week 2013: A time for celebration


Immunisation Week 2013: A time for celebration

April 19, 2013: Despite the on-going whooping cough outbreak, New Zealand is experiencing great successes in immunisation, reports the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC) as World Immunisation Week starts on April 22.

IMAC spokesperson Dr Helen Petousis-Harris notes that, “We now have a situation where 89% of eight-month-old babies and 93% of one- year-olds are fully immunised [MoH National immunisation coverage – three month reporting period ending March 2013]. That is a dramatic improvement over 2009 when only 65% of six-month-olds and 85% of one-year-olds were immunised.”

“What is also fabulous to see is the closing gap between different ethnic groups. In 2009 coverage for Maori children aged 2 years lagged behind (73%), by the end of 2012 they had caught up completely to NZ European children (90%).”

There is a similar trend in coverage by socioeconomic groupings, with the five groupings of social deprivation scores all within about 2% of each other.

“These reductions in inequities are cause for celebration,” says Dr Petousis-Harris.

Dr Marguerite Dalton, paediatrician at Auckland’s Starship says she has seen too many babies stricken down by preventable diseases.

“Knowing how safe and effective modern vaccines are, it is heart-wrenching to see young babies struggling to breathe, at risk of brain damage or even death, just because they were exposed to whooping cough before being old enough to be immunised. Protecting the young and vulnerable from such diseases needs a community approach: babies can’t catch whooping cough if everyone around them is protected.”

IMAC says Immunisation Week is also about marking what we are seeing less of: Polio was responsible for killing more than 790 people in the 20th century. Today, we are on the brink of eradicating polio from the entire world.

Dr Petousis-Harris reflects that “If you fast forward another ten years, we may no longer see pain, discomfort and risks of complications from diseases we all took for granted in our own childhood such as bacterial meningitis and measles.”

The future also holds success against the burden of disease associated with the human papillomavirus.

“While we will undoubtedly see a reduction in cervical cancer, it is the other associated victories we should also consider - fewer positive cervical smears, and so less invasive treatments, less associated worry and fear. Not to mention less genital warts. In countries that have introduced HPV vaccine to their immunisation programme including NZ, rates of genital warts are dropping significantly,” adds Dr Petousis-Harris.

“In Australia, for women under 21 years of age, the rate of genital warts plummeted by a whopping 92.6% and for 21-30 year-olds 72.6%.[BMJ 2013;346:f2032]

“We have lots to celebrate in Immunisation Week, and many success stories to tell. New Zealand continues to grow and help protect their most vulnerable citizens, and immunisation can claim responsibility for some of that success,” concludes Dr Petousis-Harris.


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