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28 Jun 2019

Australians should keep up with vaccinations for their children and themselves, despite reports of ‘waning immunity’ against measles, the AMA says.

Reports out of Victoria that more than a dozen people have been hospitalised with measles between 2014 and 2017, despite being immunised, have sparked fears that the way the virus spreads might be evolving.

But AMA Vice President Dr Chris Zappala said this should in no way lead people to thinking they needn’t get vaccinated.

“Vaccination is hugely beneficial,” Dr Zappala told Sky News.

“I mean, remember the wards of polio victims that’s now been eradicated; the kids that used to come in with meningitis to emergency departments and have hearing or neurological problems as a result; and other conditions, as well, that we’ve managed to virtually wipe out.

“Part of the problem here is that vaccination rates are not as high as they should be. We need to have that herd or community-level of protection so that these viruses can’t get a foothold and circulate in communities in the first place.

“Vaccination is safe, effective. Please have confidence in it. It’s very important as a community that we do commit to that schedule and do it as well as possible.”

Asked whether people should get a third measles shot, Dr Zappala said we should wait for more details before talking about another booster.

“I don't think we’ve got enough information to really be committing to that at the moment. Remember, this was a very small number of people who several decades ago had their appropriate vaccinations,” he said.

“We’d need time to have a look at whether there was another reason why these people got the measles virus. For example, were they immunosuppressed? Did they have other medical problems? So we’ve got a little bit of work to do to understand this more fully.

“But it in no way detracts from the huge value of measles vaccination in our community and overseas, and as per the National Immunisation Program, we should definitely be getting those two shots for our infants, our kids. And remember, if you’re behind you can catch up.”

There are currently two vaccinations that are on the National Immunisation Program in infancy that provide more than 99 per cent protection.

Dr Zappala said it was questionable whether there is a waning of immunity in the community, but if there is, it won’t happen straight away.  

“Immunity wanes in all of us. It wanes over time as we age,” he said.

“Now, whether a third booster is required – and we’re familiar with boosters in general, aren’t we, with other illnesses? Let’s just wait until we’ve done a little bit more work on that, and if it’s required then it can be based on evidence and we can make that recommendation to the population as a whole. It’s possible, but let’s have a look at it properly and just see.

“I think as a profession we need to have a look at those cases. Our infectious diseases and so on, we’ll have a look at whether there were any qualifiers or reason that might have made those individuals more susceptible. We can have a look at the strength of immunity over time in individuals as well.

“And just really take stock with where things are up to with this vaccine. It’s not like the flu, for example, where we know the virus mutates very quickly, and that’s one of the reasons we have to have annual vaccination for the flu.

“So, yes, we’ve definitely got work to do. I’m sure the international community in medicine will be interested in this. Let’s not forget that we’ve got measles outbreaks overseas at the moment that we need to contain. And vaccination is still the best way to do that.

“So I think all I can say is: have confidence in vaccination, but watch this space. If we need to do an update or a booster, then we’ll have a look at that in the period to come.”

CHRIS JOHNSON


Published: 28 Jun 2019