Child vaccination rates have increased slightly in Byron Shire, which has one of the worst in the country.
Child vaccination rates have increased slightly in Byron Shire, which has one of the worst in the country. Greg Miller

Unvaccinated children the target of pilot program

A PILOT program to flag the immunisation status of children will be launched at Nimbin hospital in coming weeks.

The initiative was one of the outcomes from an investigation by the Northern NSW Local Health District after a seven-year-old Nimbin girl nearly died from tetanus in March.

Chief executive Wayne Jones said the system had been developed and tested in a non-clinical setting before the beginning of the pilot on October 30.

The program would ensure children who present at Nimbin hospital who weren't fully vaccinated were recorded in the hospital's system with a "general, non-compliance flag".

Mr Jones said flagging system would be complimented with additional staff training to offer and encourage vaccination and updates with parents when needed.

The training would also include a refresher for staff about clinical steps to be taken depending on the child's condition. 

"It requires education to precede the flag," Mr Jones said.

"There's no point in putting the flag in if the staff don't feel competent and supported."

The pilot would run for three months at the hospital with an evaluation of its progress planned for next February.

Given the low presentation rate at the hospital, Mr Jones said the trial may be extended to ensure conclusive evidence supporting the initiative was obtained.

"We need to make sure they are evidence-based and they improve the system, and I am very confident this will," he said.

He said the minister would be kept informed of the pilot's progress with the goal to have the flagging system rolled out to all public hospitals within the health district by next year.

Anti-vaxxer heartlands such as the Byron Shire have proved challenging for health authorities to increase child vacinataion rates. 

Figures from the Australian Immunisation Register show that vaccination rates for children at ages 12 months and 5 years in the Byron Shire have remained relatively stable* over the past five financial years.

For 2016/17, figures show 69.3% of five-year-olds in the Byron Shire were fully vaccinated.

Despite the statistics, Mr Jones credited the efforts of public health vaccination team, GPs and other supportive initiatives for "slow but steady improvements" in the area.

Mr Jones said those with a "strong anti-vaxxer position ... who totally refute the science" weren't the focus in the pursuit to strengthen vaccination rates.

"The challenge is we need to play our resources where we are going to get the best return," he said.

"Our target needs to be on people who will make a decision based on informed and accurate science."

*The print edition of the Northern Star (October 21-22) quoted Mr Jones saying that vaccination rates in children had slightly increased according to recent data. This is incorrect, the number has remained steady in the past five financial years. The story has been edited to reflect the accurate data. 

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