26 Jan 2009

NZ immunisation rates lower than world average

10:12 pm on 26 January 2009

A Unicef report into the health of the world's children shows New Zealand is lagging behind in infant immunisation rates.

Although work is being done to boost immunisation for children, health authorities in New Zealand say there is still some work to be done.

The State of the World's Children report shows 79% of New Zealand one-year-olds are vaccinated against measles, compared with an average of 93% in other industrialised countries.

Vaccination rates for diptheria, whooping cough and tetanus are also lower than the average.

The Ministry of Health's chief adviser for Child and Youth Health, Pat Tuohy, says the figures do not come as a surprise.

"We've been aware in New Zealand for some time now that our immunisation rates are poorer than they should or could be, and for the last couple of years we've been working very hard to pull those rates up."

Dr Tuohy says work is being done to make immunisation more readily available, and to educate parents who have concerns about immunisation safety.

He says the immunisation rate for infants improved by 9% in the last financial year, and he is confident the ministry can reach a target of 95% immunisation by mid 2012.

Nikki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre in Auckland, says she is concerned about the effects of the poor uptake of vaccination.

"The result is we have higher rates of disesase than comparable Western countries and in particular, we have higher rates of whooping cough, which affect our babies.

"We still see a little bit of measles, we still see some of the other diseases we should never see - so it's definitely a concern to us."

Dr Turner says because many childhood diseases are relatively rare in New Zealand, people are not aware of the danger.

She says one of the barriers stopping parents from immunising their children is misinformation about side-effects.

Last year there was an outbreak of measles at a Canterbury preschool, where two children fell ill. Chief medical officer of Health Alistair Humphrey says it caught many parents by surprise.

"We need to remember that these diseases, which we don't see very often now because we vaccinate most of our children ... can be very dangerous," he says.