There was a story in the NZ Herald this week regarding a Measles outbreak in Auckland and the response to this event by the Powers That Be. Whether or not the action taken (keeping unvaccinated children at home following possible contact with carriers) is correct, either practically or ethically is a question that will be endlessly discussed by others. I would like to focus on a point made in the article about vaccination coverage in New Zealand children. It was implied that approximately 25% of NZ children are unvaccinated, at the moment data is collected at childhood “milestones” 6,12,18 and 24 months of age. At 24 months the coverage is 77%, after this age no information (currently available) is collected but it is reasonable to expect that the numbers do not climb appreciably after this age.
I found it interesting that the article did not mention that compared with other developed countries this coverage is practically dismal. The coverage in the USA is >95%, though school attendance is predicated upon receiving vaccinations exemptions are available. In the UK where recently there have been concerns over vaccination rates dropping encouraging outbreaks over there, the coverage is still >80%. Even Australia has 82% coverage at age 5. The target coverage for NZ is >95%. Why do we lag behind?
According to the National Childhood Immunisation Survey conducted in 2005, 25% of those whose children do not receive the vaccinations have made this choice due to fears of vaccine safety (another 5% had concerns over a particular vaccine). 3% of respondents reported that they did not believe vaccines work at all. More mundane reasons were also quite prominent: child was on a different schedule or immunisation was done overseas – 19%, medical reasons – 11%, thought the child was vaccinated/not sure if vaccinated ~10%. A laundry list of other reasons each had <3%. Compared with the US where the reasons mostly cited were “Philosophical or Religious beliefs against vaccination” ~66%. Considering that in many states exemption due to religious reasons are about the only ones the law will accept (barring medical reasons) this is likely to cover a wider array of actual reasons.
How should NZ tackle the vaccination issue?