Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: vaccination rules in Australia

Source: liberal.org

When a person is immunised, it benefits not only them, but everyone. Health authorities aim to reach herd (or community) immunity, when enough people are immunised from a disease that an infection cannot spread. However, Australia's immunisation coverage is below herd immunity levels. Now the Australian Government is offering incentive payments to health providers to boost coverage rates.

The World Health Organisation says diseases can be eliminated in countries where herd or community immunity is reached through a more than 95 per cent immunisation rate. The Australian Childhood Immunisation Register shows 93 per cent of children are fully vaccinated. Vaccination rates vary across states and territories, with the ACT being the highest immunised community in Australia. University of Sydney Associate Professor of Public Health Julie Leask outlines some reasons levels vary.

The NIP has a [vaccine] catch-up plan


"Now the regions that  have rate of lower than say 85 per cent, there is a number of different reason for that, one set of reasons might be that community is more likely to reject vaccination, there are alternative communities who don't trust vaccinations as much. Or parents in some communities where there is poverty or social exclusion where the families want to get their kids vaccinated, but they are just struggling to get their kids to the doctor on time."

It's really important to check what vaccines are due for your child when you come from another country


For those that miss a vaccination or haven't been vaccinated at all, the NIP has a catch-up plan. Julie Leask underlines the importance of keeping track of immunisation dates.

"It's really important to check what vaccines are due for your child when you come from another country, because often your child or yourself may have been vaccinated on a different schedule in your home country. And so when you come to Australia there may be different vaccines that are due, or extra vaccines that are due. And that what we call catch-up vaccination, is really important to do, so that the families are protected from some of the diseases that are still around in Australia."

 
Vaccines are free for children under 20 years of age until December 2017. For kids under 10 years, there is no time limit.

"There's a number of ways to get those vaccines, one is your local GP, or your local immunisation clinic. Some areas have council clinics, your indigenous health worker, or travel medicine clinic an d they may come with some costs, so maybe people need to ring up their clinic and see what costs there would be, but sort some of those routine vaccines, they should be free."

In Australia parents can choose whether to vaccinate their children fully or not 


But adults should be vaccinated as well. Victoria's Department of Health has a current measles outbreak alert, with nine cases of the disease in Melbourne's inner north since February this year. Julie Leask says some diseases spread through overseas travel.

"You get somebody who's not vaccinated against measles though their childhood, they become  a young adult and then they go overseas, to a country where measles is really common, and they bring it back to Australia, and there's like this little sort of outbreak of measles that happens and the public health authorities have to let everybody know and make sure that people if they have a rash or a high fever that they let their local doctor or emergency department know before they turn up to the emergency department and potentially spread measles."
She advises to get vaccinated six to eight weeks before travelling.


Parents are required to meet an approved exemption as to why they won't vaccinate their children. For those who choose not to vaccinate, there are financial and social penalties.

In Victoria, children must be fully vaccinated to enrol in childcare and kindergarten, unless they have a medical reason


"In Australia parents can choose whether to vaccinate their children fully or not, but if parents don't vaccinate their children fully, there are certain financial penalties, where the parents won't be able to access family assistance payments, so those Centrelink payments, that include the family Tax Benefit Part A supplement, that's a yearly payment and the childcare benefit and rebate."

For non-English speaking communities social disadvantage and language barriers are the main roadblocks [for not to get vaccinated]

   
In Victoria, children must be fully vaccinated to enrol in childcare and kindergarten, unless they have a medical reason. If vaccinations have happened in another country, they must be registered in Australia.
Now health providers will also be encouraged to ensure their patients are vaccinated. From July 1 2016, immunisation providers, including doctors will receive incentive payments each time they immunise a child who is overdue for a vaccine. Director of National Immunisation Centre Research and Surveillance Peter McIntyre says for non-English speaking communities social disadvantage and language barriers are the main roadblocks.

The government tracks each child's immunisation log

"Some of these areas in the large cities where we know there is relatively high numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse people living, they do have higher rates in not-immunisation and also of social disadvantage. Both those things could be contributing to lack of access rather to desire not to immunise."


Mr McIntyre suggests that health services play important part in changing the attitude towards immunisation across multicultural communities.

"There have been some studies about people coming from areas of South-East Asia with high rates of Hepatitis B and who are now, living in Australia and looking at their knowledge about Hepatitis B and I guess including in that would be knowledge about the importance of vaccines and preventing it. I think it's mostly about communication and contact with health services."


He says engaging Islamic communities in a detailed conversation helped implement higher levels of human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccinations.

"Even in high schools exclusively servicing Islamic communities, with the right kind of communication there has been big increase in uptake of that HPV vaccine and realization that actually it is important."


The government tracks each child's immunisation log - which can be viewed through Medicare online or via the Express Plus Medicare mobile app. By the end of 2016 the database will include the entire population.
In the meantime, Julie Leask suggests people keep all relevant information and in some cases get an extra vaccine.

There's often translated information about what vaccines are due for adults and children


"It can be very challenging when we don't have past records of our vaccinations being given. It's not a problem to have an extra vaccine, an MMR vaccine if we're not sure, it's not going cause us any serious problems, and of course we know that vaccines come with side effects and some very very rare serious side effects but generally they're quite safe so it's OK to have another vaccine if we're not sure."

You can find out about the NIP from your local health department, GP or immunisation clinic. Julie Leask says it's a good way to start if you're not familiar with the Australia's health system.

"On those websites that belong to the state health departments, there's often translated information about what vaccines are due for adults and children. So that enables people whose first language is not English, who may not have a lot of English  to be able to know what's due for them and their children in Australia."