Report on vaccine preventable deaths a reminder to parents

11 January 2018
A new report reveals how successful immunisation has been in dramatically reducing the number of childhood deaths from infectious diseases in Australia.

Parents are reminded to talk with their doctor to ensure children are fully vaccinated following a review of vaccine preventable deaths in NSW over the past decade.

The review, ‘Child Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Infectious Diseases, NSW 2005-2014’, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance and University of Sydney was published today in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The findings, which were also previously tabled in a report to NSW State Parliament commissioned by the NSW Child Death Review Team (CDRT), found that while child deaths due to vaccine preventable diseases are now rare in Australia, 23 deaths still occurred between 2005 and 2014 that could have been prevented by vaccines that were available at the time.

Another 30 deaths were not considered preventable at the time, although 15 would now be covered by new vaccines.

The majority of deaths were due to influenza, meningococcal disease and pneumococcal disease, with most deaths occurring in babies under six months of age. Several deaths were due to whooping cough.

A third of the children also had health problems that put them at high risk of severe disease.

NCIRS Acting Director and University of Sydney Professor Kristine Macartney said the report highlighted the need for parents and healthcare professionals to follow the recommendations in the Australian Immunisation Handbook.

“Immunisation has been successful in dramatically reducing the number of childhood deaths from infectious diseases in Australia,” Professor Macartney said.

“After last year’s flu season, which was one of the worst to occur in recent years, it is important for parents to speak with their doctor about the influenza vaccine to ensure their child is protected.”

“Although the majority of influenza-related deaths occur in the elderly, it is important to know that previously healthy people of all ages, including children, can die from complications from influenza. Most of the influenza-related deaths we recorded in children occurred in those under five years.”

The influenza vaccine is recommended in the Australian Immunisation Handbook for all children, particularly those under five years of age.

“Parents of all children, and particularly those with medical conditions or compromised immune systems should talk to their doctor about what vaccinations might be needed for their child or family,” Professor Macartney said.

“Pregnant women are also encouraged to speak to their doctor or midwife about free vaccinations for whooping cough and influenza to protect newborn babies as well.” 

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