Immunisation provides both individual protection and community protection from vaccine-preventable diseases. This makes it a powerful public health measure used all over the world to protect populations from diseases.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccination is estimated to have saved around 20 million lives just between 8 December 2020 and 8 December 2021. In a non-pandemic year it still saves millions of lives and prevents people suffering from debilitating disabilities caused by a large range of diseases. So it’s important to maintain a good level of immunisation coverage in our communities.
In New Zealand, we are using more and more outreach clinics where multiple vaccinations can be provided at once at public events. IMAC supports this sort of outreach work continuing and expanding. Great outreach is being done by Māori and Pasifika health providers for example, but the statistics still paint a concerning picture.
Internationally, first-dose measles is at its lowest level since 2008, down 24.7 million which increases the potential for outbreaks around the world including in New Zealand of course. We are at high risk of measles returning, and of a resurgence in whooping cough, both vaccine-preventable diseases.
Dr Anna Howe, Research Fellow, Paediatrics: Child and Youth Health at the University of Auckland provides IMAC with immunisation coverage information for children in New Zealand.
She says, “Here in New Zealand our childhood immunisations are also dropping, creating larger and larger equity gaps meaning those children most at risk are getting more and more at risk of getting sick or even dying from vaccine-preventable illnesses. This is why it’s vitally important that parents and caregivers get their tamariki vaccinated without delay when they’re eligible, which provides them with life-saving protection.”
This graph from Dr Howe shows how much childhood immunisations have dropped by. As you can see, vaccinations at ages 6 months, 18 months and 2 years have dropped significantly since 2018.
Our other area of concern is the ethnic breakdown, which shows very concerning equity differences that need to be addressed, particularly around the timeliness of receiving immunisations at the right age. Delaying vaccination puts young children at high risk of vaccine-preventable diseases, in particular whooping cough and measles.
The overall coverage rates trend has dropped from nearly 80 percent coverage in 2017 to around 65 percent coverage this year in June. Māori and Pasifika rates are lower still and show an urgent need to support and expand the good work being done by Māori and Pasifika health providers working closely with their communities to reach those that can’t easily access vaccinations.
The leadership provided by the new Te Aka Whai Ora - Māori Health Authority, and Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand, will be critical in turning these statistics around.