Child health experts say urgent action needed to resolve child immunisation crisis
Child health experts from the Paediatric Society of New Zealand (PSNZ) and Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) are deeply concerned about Aotearoa’s low rates of immunisations for preventable and life-threatening childhood diseases like measles and whooping cough.
Both the PSNZ and RACP are urging the Ministry of Health and Te Whatu Ora to urgently address this crisis and redirect COVID resource toward equitable childhood vaccination. Urgent action is needed to reduce the risk to pēpi (babies) and tamariki and to prevent increasing the workload on our already overstretched health professional workforce.
Paediatric Society spokesperson Dr Owen Sinclair (Te Rarawa) says, “Statistics show that for Māori and Pasifika the current rates of immunisation are as low as they have ever been. We are nowhere near achieving the levels required to protect our precious tamariki.
“Previous gains in immunisation have long gone. Rates had been falling prior to the pandemic but COVID has resulted in the collapse of the childhood vaccine system. In South Auckland, only one in three Māori pēpi are up-to-date with their immunisations at six months of age. This is a real threat, when measles travelled from Auckland to Samoa in 2019 causing their fatal epidemic rates their vaccination rates were 31%.
“We encourage whānau to make sure their pēpi and tamariki are up-to-date with their immunisations such as those for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), and whooping cough. We also want to see our vaccination system rapidly reconfigured so that it is easy for whānau to get their tamariki immunised.
“These low rates of immunisation in Māori populations represent a preventable ethnic inequality that is a breach of Te Tiriti exposing vulnerable Māori pēpi to fatal disease,” says Dr Sinclair, “This is unacceptable and totally preventable.”
RACP spokesperson Dr Hamish McCay says, “The focus needs to shift now from COVID immunisations to increasing the rates for childhood vaccinations. If Aotearoa has a measles or whooping cough outbreak while we have such low levels of community immunity our pēpi and tamariki are at risk of serious illness.”