The 23 child deaths that vaccinations could have 'prevented' in NSW

A major study investigating child deaths from vaccine preventable infectious diseases was released on Thursday.

Twenty-three children in New South Wales died preventable deaths over the past decade from diseases for which vaccines were available, new research published today reveals. 

A further 30 children died from diseases for which a vaccine was available, the researchers said, but they were not considered preventable at the time. 16 of these 30 cases could now be preventable through maternal vaccination during pregnancy, the researchers found.

The majority of deaths occured in babies under six months of age and were due to influenza, meningococcal disease and pneumococcal disease, while several deaths were due to whooping cough.

Babies too young to be vaccinated rely on herd immunity for protection from certain diseases, which occurs when a sufficient majority of the population are vaccinated, preventing the spread of disease.

There has been concern in recent years over lower rates of immunisation in some areas and the rise of the so-called "anti-vaxxer" movement, despite Australia's free National Immunisation Program for all children. 

Influenza was the most common form of vaccine-preventable childhood death but the influenza vaccination, while recommended for everyone over 6 months, is only free for high-risk groups on the National Immunisation Program. 

The report found that overall, child deaths due to vaccine-preventable diseases are now rare in Australia. 

NCIRS Acting Director Kristine Macartney, one of seven authors of the research, encouraged parents to talk to their doctors to ensure their children are fully vaccinated. 

“Immunisation has been successful in dramatically reducing the number of childhood deaths from infectious diseases in Australia,” Professor Macartney said.

“After last year’s flu season, which was one of the worst to occur in recent years, it is important for parents to speak with their doctor about the influenza vaccine to ensure their child is protected.”

“Although the majority of influenza-related deaths occur in the elderly, it is important to know that previously healthy people of all ages, including children, can die from complications from influenza. Most of the influenza-related deaths we recorded in children occurred in those under five years.”

The influenza vaccine is recommended in the Australian Immunisation Handbook for all children, particularly those under five years of age.

The report, 'Child Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Infectious Diseases' between 2005 and 2014, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network and University of Sydney researchers was published on Thursday in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The statistics have also been tabled in NSW parliament by the Ombudsman, whose Child Death Review Team commissioned the work.