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The immunisation debate

As Immunisation Awareness Week kicks off in the last week of April, it’s a great time for parents to contemplate their vaccination choices.   

This year, 2017, marks the halfway point in the Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) – endorsed by 194 member states of the World Health Assembly in May 2012 – which aims to prevent millions of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases by 2020 through universal access to immunisation.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that immunisation averts between 2- 3 million deaths worldwide each year. An additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided, however, if global vaccination coverage improves.

On a local level, New Zealand’s target for immunisation coverage is 95 per cent of children fully immunised by eight months and then two years of age (additional vaccines are specified for two-year-olds). Currently, 93.3% of 8-month-olds and 93.1% of two-year-olds are reaching these markers.

The Immunisation Advisory Centre says that although most Kiwi kids are fully immunised, a few still die and each year and more suffer ongoing permanent physical or mental disabilities and medical complications from diseases that are preventable through immunisation. There are many more hospitalisations.

For example, this year, the chickenpox vaccine will be added to New Zealand’s schedule in July. Currently, there are about 50,000 cases of chickenpox infections in New Zealand each year. Several hundred result in hospitalisation, one or two cases result in residual long-term disability or death, and one case results in severe congenital varicella syndrome.

However, No Forced Vaccines – an association of individuals concerned about ethics and maintaining the fundamental human right for parents to make the health care choices they deem appropriate for their children – says that Kiwi parents need to be made aware of all the statistics surrounding vaccination, not just the potential benefits.

It lobbies for reporting on the National Immunisation Register (NIR) to include significant adverse reactions to vaccines in addition to assessing how effectively vaccines are preventing cases of specific notifiable diseases for which a vaccine exists.

“Making a free and informed decision about any medical treatment, including vaccination, is a basic human right,” spokesperson Katherine Smith said in a recent media release.

No Forced Vaccines does not advise people not to vaccinate, but opposes forced or coerced vaccinations. Its members are often parents who allege that their kids have experienced a negative reaction to vaccination.

The right to make an informed choice and give your informed consent when using a health service is guaranteed under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights.

Being informed means that you understand the benefits and risks of immunisation, as well as the risks associated with any given vaccine or disease.

The health professional who offers immunisation for your child is obliged to provide you with accurate, objective, relevant and understandable information to help you make an informed decision.

They need to explain:

•    That you have a choice

•    Why you are being offered the vaccine

•    What is involved in what you are being offered

•    The probable benefits, risks, side effects, failure rates and alternatives

•    The risks and benefits of not receiving the treatment or procedure.

New Zealand’s Ministry of health has an immunisation schedule available on its website, ranging from six-weeks-old to 65-years.

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