Increasing low child vaccination rates in Byron Bay and throughout the shire has been a challenge for health authorities.
Increasing low child vaccination rates in Byron Bay and throughout the shire has been a challenge for health authorities. scyther5

Vaccination rates a 'long-term frustration': health experts

CHILD vaccination rates in the Byron Shire remain among the lowest in the country with the figures remaining unchanged in half a decade.

The Northern NSW Local Health District has confirmed figures from the Australian Immunisation Register show vaccination rates for children at ages 12 months and five years in the Byron Shire "have remained relatively stable over the past five financial years".

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

While disappointed about the figures, Richmond MP Justine Elliot anticipated new laws that would deny access for unvaccinated kids to attend childcare as well as cuts to family benefits for those who don't immunise would help turn the statistics around.

Ballina MP Tamara Smith criticised the measures and called for a budget increase for educational programs for parents because "lasting, behavioural change comes from greater awareness rather than punishment."

The recent statistics contrast the hard-work of public health authorities, community health workers, GPs and the North Coast Primary Heath Network doing their utmost to boost child vaccination rates.

General Practice advisor for NCPHN Daniel Ewald said the on-going effort to increase vaccination rates across the Byron Shire was "a long-term frustration for all of us involved".

He said one of the factors that played into lower coverage rates for one to five-year-olds was parents delaying their child's vaccination schedules until they were older.

The Lennox Head GP said its crucial the schedule was followed to strengthen immunity and to protect particularly infants not old enough to be vaccinated from serious complications of vaccine-preventable diseases.

But Dr Ewald remained confident the region would soon swing towards a year-on-year improvement in the next one to two years.

"My prediction is that we will see a gradual, slow improvement in the rate in the near future," Dr Ewald said.

Heidi Robinson of the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters agreed and said the "cultural narrative here on the Northern Rivers" about vaccinations was "extremely entrenched and difficult to shift".

Ms Robertson said the not-for-profit, volunteer group was formed in 2013 to provide a need for an alternative vaccination resource outside a doctor's surgery or government agencies to discuss concerns in an informal setting.

The group has since been endorsed by the World Health Organisation as a reliable resource for vaccine information.

The Coorabell mum said "vaccination hesitant parents" who may not "completely refute the science" highlight that views about immunisation cannot be categorised with an anti-vaxxer broad-brush.

She said nurturing confidence in parents about the safety of vaccinations through on-going engagement can take days, weeks, months and sometimes even years.

Improving the understanding about why some parents don't vaccinate has formed the basis of research projects to develop strategies to best communicate with these groups of parents.

Acting Director North Coast Public Health Unit, Greg Bell highlighted the research, which involves NSW Health, the University of Sydney and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, in a suite of on-going approaches to improve immunisation rates in the Northern Rivers and across the state.


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