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Child vaccination rates alarmingly low

15 Jul 2013

Researchers have found alarmingly low rates of vaccination among children hospitalised for chicken pox, highlighting warnings that parents are putting lives at risk by neglecting immunisation.

And, in a result that calls into question concerns about the safety of influenza vaccination for young children, the study - using data collected through the Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance (PAEDS) system – found only a fraction of those hospitalised with the disease had received the vaccine.

The University of Sydney study found that just 16 out of 133 children hospitalised in New South Wales between 2007 and 2010 due to complications arising from chicken pox infection had been vaccinated, underlining concerns that pockets of low vaccination rates leave the community vulnerable to sustained outbreaks of serious diseases.

And, contradicting the widespread belief that flu vaccinations can cause seizures in children younger than five years, the study found that just 15 infants out of 122 hospitalised with flu symptoms during the period had received any vaccine in the previous week – and, of these, nine had underlining chronic disorders that could cause seizures, such as prior diagnosed epilepsy or viral infections.

The researchers noted that bowel obstruction was more frequent among infants receiving the first, rather than second, dose of either of the two available rotavirus vaccines.

Surveillance during the influenza pandemic in 2009 found that swine flu was the cause of 84 per cent infant hospitalisations during the period, whereas seasonal influenza was responsible for just 7 per cent.

The study revealed “only 11 per cent of all children, and 17 per cent of children with underlying chronic disorders, had been vaccinated for seasonal influenza.”

Of the 324 children who had been hospitalised in New South Wales’ three children’s hospitals during the swine flu outbreak, complications occurred in 34 per cent – half of whom had previously been healthy.

The study’s senior author, Professor Elizabeth Elliot, said the PAEDS research was intended to help cover gaps in surveillance data for severe vaccine-preventable diseases and unpleasant events following the immunisation.

She said that although there were “excellent national laboratory and public health surveillance systems currently operating in Australia, ” very few provided well-timed, detailed clinical data.

She said this was particularly the case when it came to infectious diseases such as chicken pox, influenza and rotavirus, none of which were “readily or completely described by existing surveillance systems”.

The PAEDS study findings highlight concerns about the dangers of low vaccination rates in pockets of the community.

Late last month the Senate passed legislation calling for the anti-vaccination group Australian Vaccination Network – which is fighting a rearguard action in NSW courts to block Government attempts to force it to change its name – to disband.

Australian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale has accused the AVN of carelessly spruiking unfounded claims about the safety of vaccines.

“I have had people contact me who have lost children to diseases that have a safe and effective vaccine,” he said. “Well-meaning parents are being fed dangerous misinformation which undermines their faith in the safety of vaccines. This has to stop.”

Well-known immunologist Professor Christopher Parish from the John Curtain School of Medical Research said late last month that vaccinations had been proven to be enormously effective in reducing the amount of people catching life-threatening diseases.

Professor Parish said long-term population health data from the United States showed a 100 per cent fall in the occurrence of major diseases such as polio and rubella between the  pre- World War II period and 1995.

Professor Elliot said PAEDS had the potential to quickly identify serious emerging disease outbreaks, as demonstrated during the swine flu pandemic.

She said PAEDS was also “the first system to reliably capture data on adverse events resulting from vaccination and requiring admission.”

Jeremy Mole



Published: 15 Jul 2013