GOVERNMENTS should consider punishing groups caught spreading anti-vaccination messages, the Australian Medical Association says.
AMA president Steve Hambleton said the people behind these groups should be "ashamed of themselves" after a National Health Performance Authority report showed immunisation rates in some parts of the country were below 85%.
While some areas boasted immunisation rates above 95%, helping lift the national average to above 90%, the second Health Communities report found there were almost 77,000 children across Australia not fully immunised.
Declining rates were not confined to low socio-economic areas, with drops also recorded in affluent parts of the country.
Dr Hambleton said it was no coincidence immunisation rates were lower in areas where anti-vaccination groups were active, particularly in northern New South Wales and south-east Queensland where he said there had been recent measles outbreaks.
"They are putting the community in danger," Dr Hambleton said when asked about the groups.
"The science is in - vaccination saves lives. Anybody who spreads an anti-vaccination message is hurting our children and we've got to make sure we respond to these sorts of reports and make a difference and make sure we vaccinate our children to protect them."
Asked if these groups should be punished, Dr Hambleton said: "There really should be. There should be some sanction for spreading misinformation."
Dr Hambleton also suggested governments should make it "difficult" for unvaccinated children to attend school, although he stopped short of calling for an outright ban.
He said there was an increasing number of people, including doctors, who had not seen the "devastating effects" of diseases like mumps and measles.
The report, Healthy Communities: Immunisation rates for children in 2011-12, broke immunisation rates down into the 61 areas covered by the new network of Medicare Locals, as well as 325 smaller "statistical areas".
It measures the percentages of children who were considered fully immunised at one, two and five years of age in 2011-12.
The report has found there were 32 of the 325 statistical areas in 2011-12 in which children who had not been fully immunised were most at risk of being exposed to contagious diseases such as measles and whooping cough.
In these areas, the percentages of children fully immunised were 85% or less in at least one of the three age groups.
In contrast, the percentages of children fully immunised were 95% or more in at least one of the three age groups in 77 of the 325 statistical areas.
Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report confirmed Australia's high immunisation rates, but also highlighted the need for more work in regions below the national average.
Parents' eligibility for some family payments are linked to the immunisation status of their children.
To be eligible for Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement, which is $726, parents need to have their children fully immunised.
The government recently announced that from July 1, Australian children would need only one needle at 18 months to be fully protected from measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox.
- There were much lower rates of children fully immunised at the oldest age group. Among all 5 year olds, 23 of 61 Medicare Local catchments recorded less than 90% fully immunised. This was a much larger number of catchments than for all children aged 1 year (two out of 61 Medicare Local catchments) and 2 years (three out of 61 Medicare Local catchments).
- Percentages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children fully immunised were lower than for all children. There were 12 Medicare Local catchments in which less than 80% of Indigenous children were fully immunised in at least one of the three age groups, compared to none for all children. There were eight out of about 55 Medicare Local catchments where the percentages of Indigenous children who were fully immunised in one or more of the three age groups were 75% or lower.
- Some Medicare Local catchments had several hundred children who were not fully immunised, and who could therefore catch and pass on infections to others. There are Medicare Local catchments where more than 1000 children aged 1 year, 2 years or 5 years are not fully immunised.