The gaps in Australia’s multi-million dollar vaccination programs could lead to further breakouts of preventable diseases such as those recorded in Western Sydney migrant communities, according to a new report from the National Health and Medical Research Council Centre for Research Excellence in Immunisation.
University of New South Wales Professor Raina MacIntyre said government funding was needed to address the shortfalls.
“I don’t think it’s a big investment, in terms of what we spend money on publicly, but I think there’d be big returns for that investment in terms of controlling easily controlled vaccine preventable diseases in Australia,” she said.
The push for funding follows a national workshop held last year, when experts and interest groups came together to identify issues within the healthcare system.
Professor MacIntyre said the resulting report, titled “Protecting Australia – closing the gap in immunisation for migrants and refugees,” highlighted the need for a whole-of-life immunisation register and improved identification of high-risk migrant and refugee groups.
“They come from countries with different immunisation systems and, in extreme cases, they might be completely unimmunised,” she said.
“There is no universal way of checking immunisation status of migrants and refugees and catching up vaccinations that have been missed.”
She said the need was focussed on people coming to Australia from refugee backgrounds and developing countries, where immunisation programs may not be as comprehensive.
“Research has found that most people from migrant backgrounds are quite accepting of vaccines and immunisation, but certain vaccines are quite expensive,” she said.
“Many people cannot afford it unless it’s funded for them.”
The report called for the universal funding for immunisation of recently arrived migrants and refugees, as well as the implementation of the new National Immunisation Strategy for Australia to comprehensively address the needs of such groups.
Professor MacIntyre said without action, the country could be vulnerable to epidemics of diseases thought to be eradicated in Australia.
“It gives us pockets of vulnerable people in the community who could be at risk… and where epidemics could occur,” she said.
“We’ve actually seen that, in the case of the measles epidemics in south west and Western Sydney in the last couple of years.”
Comment has been sought from Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton.