Abysmal childhood immunisation rates a recipe for disaster
By Dr Rachel Mackie (Ngātiwai)
26 April 2023
Our tamariki are our future. They are the ones who carry our whakapapa and matauranga for our following generations. We need to ensure we’re doing everything we can to look after them and their health now, while they are young, to ensure they are as protected as possible as they move through adolescence and into adulthood.
One effective way to do this is through childhood immunisations.
The current immunisation rates are abysmal and, sadly, continue to highlight the widening health inequity gaps which will only lead to more of a decline in the health outcomes for those who deserve a health service to meet their needs.
The recent measles and whooping cough cases appearing in Aotearoa - diseases that are preventable through immunisation – should be seen as an urgent call to action to address this disparity.
So, what do the rates tell us?
Data for the October – December 2022 period for fully immunised 18-month-olds is a staggeringly and alarmingly low 46.9 percent for Māori tamariki. The rates for Pasifika children at this age comes in not much better at 55.7 percent and 73.8 percent for Pākehā.
The benchmark for fully immunised tamariki in Aotearoa should be around the 90 percent mark to provide a large enough herd immunity to protect the most vulnerable in our communities; pepi who are not old enough for immunisations, our kaumatua, and those who have weakened immune systems.
While the recent spate of measles and whooping cough cases in Aotearoa seems small, those of us working in primary care know all too well just how fast these diseases can spread in communities with low vaccination rates, making them more vulnerable to long-term illness and poorer health outcomes that can affect the rest of their lives or end lives too soon. This will be devastating for whānau.
Whooping cough has, this year, sadly already claimed the lives of tamariki in Aotearoa.
My thoughts also keep returning to the 2019 measles outbreak that occurred in Samoa and here in South Auckland that resulted in the death of 81 people, mostly children.
This is heart-breaking when there are free childhood immunisations available, and these diseases are preventable.
As we are fast approaching the winter months, and still playing catch-up following the pandemic, now is the time to check that our pepi, tamariki and rangitahi are up to date with their immunisations.
Antenatal vaccination is also a way for mums-to-be to provide their unborn pepi with the best protection until they can get their first immunisation at six weeks of age. All whānau can play their part by ensuring their immunisations are up to date and have received any additional boosters if required as even the mildest of symptoms can be passed on to our most vulnerable.
These recent cases have prompted more conversations and campaigns to ramp up vaccination rates. Action needs to be taken now, especially when the data is telling us that more than half of our 18-month-old Māori tamariki are already at a disadvantage when it comes to their health.
At an age when young minds and bodies are still developing this is not acceptable. We need to see more urgency and solutions around how to reach our most vulnerable populations.
Local general practice clinics can draw upon trusted relationships we have with patients that have been built over time, and often over generations of whānau, to discuss the importance of immunisations and provide this service to our community. We work with others to provide this essential service but we all need to be adequately supported to reduce barriers for our whānau.
To ensure our tamariki are here in the future, we must put them and their health first, and we must do it now.
The Health Navigator website outlines the series of immunisations that are offered, free of charge, to babies, children, adolescents, and adults.
Your GP, community provider or Healthline are also available to discuss your health concerns or questions further.