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Measles Outbreak A Timely Reminder for Eastern Suburbs Parents To Immunise

By Evonne Collier on March 5, 2014 in News

Picture: Maurice Hilleman

Picture: Maurice Hilleman

NSW Health has confirmed a measles outbreak in late January affecting nine people including three young children. Dr. Vicky Sheppeard, Director of Communicable Diseases at NSW Health, said that only one person was known to be fully vaccinated. Additionally, another patient attended the Prince of Wales (POW) Hospital Emergency Department with suspected measles on January 27, 2014.

This is a timely reminder for Eastern Suburbs parents to review their children’s immunisation status. Nationally, immunisation levels are generally high at 92%. However, a National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) report showed vaccination rates in some Eastern Suburbs areas had fallen below 85 per cent, lower than some Third World countries.

This NHPA report found that over 77,000 children nationally were not fully immunised. Over 1,500 of these non-immunised kids live within Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs. Nearly one in two children isn’t immunised in Australia because their parents are ‘conscientious objectors’ (applied for exemption on moral, philosophical or religious grounds). The other half simply haven’t kept up-to-date with their child’s immunisation schedule.

According to the Public Health Association of Australia CEO Michael Moore, “Last year, there were infections in babies that are too young to be vaccinated – the first MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine is delivered in Australia at 12 months. These babies were infected through the selfish approach of the immunisation refusers.”

Furthermore, Mr Moore stated that these non-immunised children will have a real challenge when they grow up and want to travel to places in which they will not be able to count on disease protection via herd immunity.

Professor Robert Booy from the Westmead Children’s Hospital stated that nine children have died from vaccine-preventable diseases in the last couple of years.

The NHPA report showed Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs immunisation rates were the third lowest nationally amongst one year-olds and the lowest amongst two and five year-old children. This last result is actually lower than that of the anti-vax campaigners in northern NSW. The worst Eastern Suburbs immunisation rates were found in the postcodes 2021 (Centennial Park/Paddington) and 2024 (Bronte/Waverley), with 21% of five year-old children in 2030 (Dover Heights/Vaucluse) not fully immunised.

Dr. Robert Menzies, Deputy Director at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, said in some wealthy suburbs parents often believed websites over health authorities.

“There have been slight increases in the population of people who are somewhat sceptical or not completely supportive of immunisation,” Dr. Menzies said. “I think that’s a misplaced scepticism.”

One of the enduring myths about immunisation is that the measles vaccine causes autism. According to Dr. Menzies, “The measles vaccine does not cause autism; this has been comprehensively debunked. The measles vaccine saves millions of lives all around the world.” He also went on to say there has been a resurgence in measles in Europe, the UK and Africa, with recent deaths in the UK. He said that people travelling abroad should ensure they are vaccinated.

From January 1, no New South Wales child can be enrolled at a childcare facility unless the parent provides proof their child is fully immunised or an exemption. Currently, the state has the highest rate of parents applying for exemption through conscientious objection with nearly 10,000 applications, approximately 25% of the national applications.

Dr. Howard Chilton, Eastern Suburbs paediatrician and author of ‘Baby on Board’ (, warned parents who do not wish to vaccinate their children against relying on decreased disease prevalence or ‘other people vaccinating’ to protect their children. He said for immunisation to work, the herd immunity needs 19 out of every 20 children immunised (95%). He also advised adults to keep on top of their vaccinations, commenting that many outbreaks of infectious diseases such as whooping cough are not spread by children, but by adults with waning immunity. Dr. Chilton also advised parents not to postpone vaccinations if their child has a cough, sniffle or minor temperature. He said a Sydney study showed 16% of parents postpone their appointment unnecessarily, which could lead to lapsed immunisation.