Vaccine expert warns of diphtheria threat for children in northern New South Wales

Diphtheria cases infecting children in northern New South Wales is a stark reminder of the importance of vaccination, says Senior Vaccine Advisor to UNICEF Australia, Chris Maher.

The former senior advisor to the Director-General of the World Health Organisation said: “The last two years of the pandemic have shown us how effective vaccination is in fighting and preventing severe disease, and it is dreadful for these children that gaps in immunisation in the community are allowing diseases such as diphtheria to creep back in, for the first time this century in New South Wales.”

Access to quality health care is a right of every child and globally UNICEF works to provide routine childhood immunisations, including against diphtheria.

“Diphtheria spreads quickly and easily in communities with lower vaccination coverage. It’s an extremely nasty disease that can cause death, and is particularly severe in young children as we have seen in these cases,” he said.

“The detection of diphtheria is an indicator of pockets of lower vaccination coverage, and communities with lower coverage are also at risk of other diseases like measles that pose a real threat of serious illness for young children.

“Two decades ago I saw first-hand how rapidly diphtheria spread through the former Soviet Union and Mongolia.

“In Australia, we are fortunate to have a robust program of free vaccinations for children that protect them and the broader community, and I encourage parents to check their children’s vaccines are up to date and take these free vaccines up.”

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