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Immunisation Week 2015

Immunisation Week 2015

Last week hundreds of people in South Auckland were potentially exposed to one of the world’s most contagious diseases. A disease that remains in the air two hours after an infected person has left the room. A disease that in 2013 killed 145,700 people across the world leaving thousands more with permanent hearing loss, brain damage or other debilitating conditions.

The disease is measles, and despite having a vaccine that can effectively protect close to 100% of recipients, we are still vulnerable. Imported cases from overseas can spread within communities with low immunisation coverage.

And with our thoughts turning to the ANZAC centenary, it is also a time to remember those killed by an invisible enemy- between October and December 1918, New Zealand lost about half as many people to influenza as it had in the whole of the First World War. No event has killed so many New Zealanders in such a short time.

The New Zealand polio epidemics in the 20th Century killed people, mostly children, through slow suffocation as a creeping paralysis overtook their bodies. With no vaccine or cure, authorities dramatically curtailed normal social gatherings in an effort to contain its spread. In 1947, a Christmas parade in Hamilton caused some concern. Father Christmas would parade through the city. It was decided that the parade could go ahead provided the children stood on the pavement at least six feet apart.

This is all a timely reminder during Immunisation Week 2015 (20th – 24th April). We have a lot to be proud of: polio is close to eradication, our immunisation coverage, especially in our infants closes in on 95% and the gaps between different ethnic and social economic groups continue to close. However we aren’t there yet, and of course even with coverage of 95% or more, there will remain the need to maintain such protection.

This week is an opportunity to remember the lives of our ancestors- forever changed by wars on the other side of the world. But also the battles at home with diseases we no longer need fear- as long as the home front of immunisation remains vigilant.


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