State health appeal: Wimmera's disease defences down

ARARAT Rural City and Northern Grampians Shire have fallen below the state average for immunisation rates for children starting school.

Ararat Rural City has an 86.21 per cent immunisation coverage of children aged five in December 2013 the fourth lowest in the state.

Northern Grampians Shire's immunisation rate was 87.5 at the same time the sixth lowest.

EDITORIAL: Lives at risk

The State Government released the data this week as it set a target to have 95 per cent of Victorian children immunised before they start school next year.

Health Minister David Davis said the state already had high immunisation rates.

"Victoria's immunisation coverage for the childhood program is impressively high, with 93 per cent of children currently immunised before they start school,'' he said.

"But more needs to be done to protect our children from preventable diseases.

"Immunisations are free and they have been proven to be the best defence against illness and death from vaccine-preventable diseases.''

Education Minister Martin Dixon said that by law, parents must provide an immunisation status certificate to the primary school when enrolling their child.

"For our population the biggest thing is being bothered and being organised" - Maternal child health nurse Therese Arnott

"Schools keep a copy of this certificate, so in the event of an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease, such as measles, unimmunised children are able to be identified and protected from risk of infection. I encourage all schools to strive for 100 per cent presentation of school entry certificates.''

Ararat maternal child health nurse Therese Arnott said she was surprised to hear Ararat's immunisation rate for five-year-olds was 86.21 per cent.

"I thought we would have been higher than that,'' she said.

"In Ararat the council does about 47 or 48 per cent of immunisations and the medical centre does the rest.''

Mrs Arnott said the child health centre constantly reminded parents when immunisations were due.

She said it also sent out reminder cards.

Mrs Arnott said she did not believe the majority of people who had not had their children immunised had intentionally skipped it.

"For our population the biggest thing is being bothered and being organised,'' she said.

Mrs Arnott said children must be fully immunised to be eligible for the Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement.

But she said further financial incentives could improve immunisation rates.

Mrs Arnott said the school immunisation status certificate was a good reminder for people to ensure their children's immunisations were up to date.

She said immunisation not only protected the child, but also provided 'herd immunity'.

"The higher the percentage of the population is immunised, the greater immunisation that gives people with low immune systems,'' she said.

The State Government data showed Horsham Rural City and Buloke, Hindmarsh, West Wimmera and Yarriambiack shires were already reaching the 2015 target. Buloke Shire led the way with 100 per cent immunisation coverage of five-year-olds in December 2013, while Horsham and Yarriambiack had percentages of 96.3 and 96.15 respectively.

Hindmarsh had immunisation coverage of 95.24 per cent and West Wimmera had 95 per cent coverage.

Grampians Medicare Local chief executive Andrew McPherson said it was important to take actual numbers into account, not just percentages.

Mr McPherson said immunisation helped stop the spread of infection and could help eradicate diseases.

“This is how smallpox was eliminated from the world, and how polio has disappeared from many countries,’’ he said.

“The recent attention on immunisation provides a timely reminder that we cannot become complacent on this topic.

“If we see a fall in our overall immunisation rates there is a risk to the health of the community.

“We need to continue to work together and reduce the number of unimmunised or not fully immunised children.’’

Mr McPherson said incorrect information, particularly online, and personal and cultural reasons could deter people from vaccinating their children.

He encouraged people to talk with a health professional, general practitioner, maternal and child health nurse or nurse immuniser to get the facts.

“Having a conversation with a trusted health professional is a good start for anyone who is unsure of their immunisation status or unsure of the benefits of immunisation,’’ he said.

“There continues to be a concerted effort by immunisation providers in our region to provide consistent and accessible immunisation services along with education to the community.’’

Mr McPherson said people could see their council or general practitioner for immunisation services.

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