Low vaccination rates across Australia

Vaccination rate figures show that older Australians are well protected against the flu but less so against pneumococcal disease and whooping cough. These figures were revealed by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and they show three-quarters of Australians aged 65 years and older had a flu shot in 2009. Just over half (55 per cent) were also vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

It is known that the elderly are at risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death due to these infections. Thus the federal government programs offer them free vaccinations. Mark Cooper-Stanbury from the AIHW said, “The vaccination coverage for both seasonal influenza and pneumococcal disease in 2009 was similar to previous years.” The report said 96 per cent of people in the 65-plus target group who were vaccinated against seasonal flu and pneumococcal disease received their vaccinations free under federal government programs.

The bad part was that just over 11 per cent of Australian adults received a whooping cough vaccination during the year, below the level that was expected. Mr Cooper-Stanbury said, “This is a concern given recent reports of increasing incidence of whooping cough in adults…Somewhat encouraging is that uptake was substantially higher, at around 45 per cent, among healthcare providers and parents and carers of infants aged less than 12 months, but there is still scope for improvement.” The whooping cough vaccine is generally recommended for adults who have close contact with children and those planning to start a family.

The AIHW report also looked at vaccinations for swine flu, and it confirmed the results of earlier research into the take-up of the matched a (H1N1) vaccine. About 19 per cent of the adult population, or three million Australians, had received the swine flu vaccine by December 2009. “Uptake for the H1N1 vaccine was higher among at-risk groups, particularly healthcare providers and childcare workers (26 per cent),” Mr Cooper-Stanbury said.

Among all, Western Australians fared worse. Only 14% had taken the H1N1 vaccine. Reasons people gave for not having the free H1N1 vaccine included thinking it was unnecessary because they were healthy and concerns about side effects. Only 7 per cent of West Australians had a whooping cough booster as an adult. Victoria had on 5.4% adults vaccinated against whooping cough.

The AIHW surveyed more than 10,000 adult Australians to compile adult vaccination rates for 2009. The results will be officially released on Thursday.

The report coincides with a WA Health Department move to improve the way bad reactions to vaccines are reported. It follows criticism of how health authorities handled seizures in children who had a flu shot last year.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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