Axing of program causes concern

THE axing of a Federal Government immunisation incentive program had led to an increase in the potentially fatal whooping cough and other infectious diseases, a local GP said yesterday.

Goonellabah doctor Andrew Binns said the fall in the national immunisation rate following the axing of the incentive program in the last Federal Budget was mirrored on the Northern Rivers.

“There has been a reduction in the rate of immunisation that is reflected in the increase of cases of whooping cough and other infectious diseases in the area,” he said.

Until the last Federal Budget, GPs were given financial assistance to pay for staff to comb through medical records and remind parents to get their children vaccinated when they turned four years of age.

Australian General Practice Network chairman Dr Emil Djakic said nationally the number of four-year-olds immunised for measles, mumps and rubella had fallen to a seven-year low since the scheme was scrapped.

“We warned the Government when it decided to axe the immunisation incentive scheme the rates of immunisation would decrease, and it appears the recent figures prove our point,” he said.

Only about 83 per cent of four-year-olds nationally are now being immunised, despite the Government aiming for 90pc.

Rural health expert Dr Sue Page said the North Coast had been hit with ‘a double whammy’.

“While the end of the program means a lot of the smaller practices will stop contacting parents, we have the impact of the anti-vaccination lobby group in the area,” she said.

The North Coast recorded the highest rate of whooping cough in the State with more than 1000 cases reported last year and the second-highest incidence of hepatitis C, according to the North Coast Area Health Service.

In April last year, Lennox Head baby Dana McCaffery died of whopping cough – the first fatality for many years.

Since then her parents have become strong public advocates for immunisation.

Dr Djakic said children not vaccinated also posed a severe threat of passing on the illness to pregnant women, older or obese people and indigenous Australians, with potentially tragic consequences.

He urged all parents of children starting school this year to ensure they had their four-year-old fully vaccinated before school begins.

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