The Australian government will offer free flu vaccines to all Indigenous children under the age of 14 and boost a national advertising campaign in a bid to counter the spread of anti-vaxxers.
"Vaccination is a powerful tool that is safe and effective to prevent the spread of many diseases,” Health Minister Greg Hunt announced in a media release. “I am delighted to announce an additional AUD 12 million will be spent over the next three years to expand the reach of the national advertising campaign. Furthermore, seasonal influenza vaccines will now be available at no cost for 170,000 Aboriginal children for the first time.”
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The measures adhere to recent recommendations from the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and will contribute to the government’s Close the Gap agenda — which seeks to reinforce the benefits of vaccination and close the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Australia is currently witnessing record-breaking immunization rates. Five-year-old children nationwide are now better protected than ever before, with an immunization rate of 94.6%. As of December 2018, Australia recorded immunization rates of over 90% for children in both the one and two year age brackets.
The new measures have been introduced, despite the positive rates, because clusters of anti-vaxxer parents remain.
The 2019 Australia National Immunization Strategy report released Sunday emphasized the significant risks areas of low vaccination coverage can pose for the greater community.
“Australia has an excellent record in childhood immunization coverage. However, a high national coverage rate can mask geographic areas and population groups that have low coverage,” the report states. “We need to ensure that high coverage rates are achieved not only at a national level, but also locally.”
Parents of children who have died to vaccine-preventable diseases have welcomed the new measures.
"The importance of community immunity is that vaccination only works if we all do it, and we all do it on time,” said Toni McCaffery, who lives in an area with low immunization. McCaffery lost her four-week-old daughter Dana to whooping cough, a vaccine-preventable disease, in 2009. “What I would tell new parents is to vaccinate, to help protect your child and the community.”