UNICEF Australia has called for parents to vaccinate their children and lift Australia’s childhood immunisation rates to 100 per cent.
The call comes on the eve of a global immunisation week, starting tomorrow (Thursday, April 24) and championing the success of immunisation to dramatically reduce preventable childhood deaths around the world.
UNICEF Australia Chief Executive Officer Norman Gillespie said Australia’s childhood immunisation rates of about 90 per cent were reasonable against world standards but a lack of understanding about the benefits of immunisation had seen a drop in rates in some communities and an increase in both the infection and hospitalisation of children.
“We are risking the return of childhood diseases like measles and whooping cough,” Dr Gillespie said. “The generally good immunisation rates across Australia offer minimum protection, but we recently saw how easily an international gathering here at home puts children who are not immunised at risk.”
Dr Gillespie said a measles outbreak stemming from a hip hop dance competition in Sydney, in December, was an example of how quickly infection can spread and how, without immunisation, thousands can be left exposed.
The competition was attended by a man from the Philippines suffering flu-like symptoms, that later developed into a measles rash. This single carrier infected a known 14 people across Australia and New Zealand with measles, and exposed thousands to the disease. Those who had not had the measles vaccine were at highest risk of the worst symptoms.
“Worldwide measles kills 14 children under the age of five, every hour,” Dr Gillespie said. “It’s known to us as a relatively simple childhood illness but where vaccination rates are low, or have slipped below containment rates, a bout of measles can spread rapidly through a school, a childcare centre, preschool, suburb and whole community.”
UNICEF, working with the World Health Organisation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary, the GAVI Alliance and governments worldwide, has spearheaded routine immunisation programs in developing countries resulting in a substantial reduction in infant deaths.
“UNICEF and its global health partners have made enormous inroads in saving children’s lives both in Australia and globally through dedicated, immunisation programs,” Dr Gillespie said.
“Vaccines are protecting more children than ever before, helping them stay alive, stay healthy and reach their full potential.
“However, outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and meningitis are not just an issue for a developing country. Outbreaks like the ones we’ve experienced recently remind us that the health of children, whether rich or poor, depends on immunisation.
“Immunisation is an unfinished agenda. We need to focus our efforts on 100 per cent rates of immunisation coverage, everywhere, for all children.”
World Immunisation Week runs from April 24 to April 30. The global message for immunisation week is Immunise for a Healthy Future: Know, Check, Protect.
During World Immunisation Week, UNICEF is calling on all parents to check their children’s vaccination records.
“Immunisation is in the interests of every Australian,” Dr Gillespie said.
Source: UNICEF Australia