Immunisation rates are on the rise throughout central Victoria but remain below the nationally-agreed target of 95 per cent across the board, with “pockets of resistance” still present in the region.
Data released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows Bendigo was closest to the target in 2015-16, with 94.8 per cent of 5-year-olds up to date with their vaccinations, a rise of 1.3 per cent in five years.
One of the region’s lowest rates was recorded in the Heathcote-Castlemaine-Kyneton statistical area, where 91.8 per cent of 5-year-olds were fully immunised, up from a five-year low of 88.1 per cent in 2011-12.
Geoffrey Courtis, who practised as a GP in Castlemaine for four decades before his retirement last week, said while the data was encouraging, there was still more work to be done to maximise protection in the community.
“The improvement may reflect a community awareness that there are distinct benefits in having full immunisation to offer protection but there are are still some pockets of resistance to the benefits in having full immunisation, often based on misinformation,” he said.
“I think there are certainly still views that there are perceived – perceived is the important word – side effects with immunisation, but many of those reports are certainly completely unsubstantiated.”
Dr Courtis said the importance of immunisation had been driven home for him while training as a young doctor at the Royal Children’s Hospital where he saw infants struck down by preventable diseases.
“It’s pretty distressing watching a young child with whooping cough – and kids died from whooping cough,” he said.
“We’re seeing less of that now but there are still sporadic cases which can be devastating in babies and young children.”
Dr Courtis said while the frequency of such illnesses had fallen significantly since then, largely as a result of vaccination, it was important parents did not become complacent.
“If you become complacent and say ‘There’s not much whooping cough about, we don’t need to get immunised’, that’s when you run the risk of having a big outbreak,” he said.
Australia’s chief medical officer and all state and territory health chiefs agreed on the national aspirational target of 95 per cent in 2014.