BY DR RICHARD KIDD, CHAIR, AMA COUNCIL OF GENERAL PRACTICE
According to Australia’s immunisation tables, the nation is as close as it has even been in reaching the aspirational immunisation coverage rate of 95 percent for five-year-olds.
But, close enough is not good enough when it comes to preventing and stopping the spread of highly infectious diseases, such as measles. A number of Australians, aged 20 and over, missed out on being fully vaccinated against preventable diseases, like measles and rubella, when they were growing up. They are still missing out because their catch-up vaccines are not funded under the National Immunisation Program (NIP).
The AMA thinks it is time for this gap in preventive health care to be closed. Both the AMA Council of General Practice and the AMA Federal Council are supportive of clinically appropriate universal catch-up vaccines funded through the NIP being made available to anyone living in Australia wishing to bring their vaccinations up to date, irrespective of age, race, country of origin and state or territory of residence.
The Government has gone some way to provide free catch-up vaccinations to children aged 10 to 19 years of age and to refugee and humanitarian entrants. But it is time to go all the way and ensure that anyone 20 years and older who wants to complete their NIP vaccination schedule is supported to do so.
About four million adults, typically those born from 1966 to 1994, are not fully vaccinated against measles. These unprotected individuals are at risk when travelling overseas of becoming infected with measles, and of bringing it back into the country.
Over the last few years, outbreaks of measles continue to highlight just how virulent this disease is and how vulnerable those who have not been fully immunised against it are. Despite Australia being declared by the World Health Organisation to be measles and rubella free, we continue to see outbreaks occurring within our shores when this highly contagious disease is caught overseas, brought back and spread.
All States and Territories, except Tasmania and South Australia, provide a free catch-up for measles, mumps and rubella for those born in or after 1966. Obviously, with two States missing out, more needs to be done to ensure as many Australians as possible are fully vaccinated against measles, as well as the other diseases covered under the NIP.
The AMA wrote to the Minister for Health at the end of 2017 in support of universal catch-up vaccinations for all Australians but nothing has been done. With 16 per cent of the population at risk the AMA believes it is time that the Federal Government steps up and provides the funding necessary to ensure all Australians have free access to the vaccines covered under the NIP so they can be fully protected against preventable deadly and debilitating disease.
Published: 14 May 2019