For a population to be considered fully immune to an illness, 95 per cent of the population should be immunised. So why is the immunisation rate nationally well below that number, and even further below it on a local level? The Ministry of Health has recognised an "urgent need" to address falling vaccination rates. .
By Kirsty Johnson, Chris Knox and Jean Bell
Immunisation rates for 6-month-old babies in the Bay of Plenty have had one of the biggest drops in the country.
The Bay of Plenty region had the fourth-steepest decline across the country's 21 DHBs, coming in behind Tairawhiti, Lakes and Wairarapa, according to Ministry of Health data.
In the Bay, just 64.6 per cent of six-month-olds were getting their vaccines on time in March 2019, down 12.6 percentage points since rates peaked in December 2015.
This follows a Bay of Plenty Times story revealing a steady decline in immunisation rates in 8-month-old babies.
Throughout the country, just 77 per cent of six-month-olds were getting their vaccines on time, down 4.5 percentage points since rates peaked in December 2015.
Coverage of 95 per cent is needed for population immunity.
A marked drop was seen in the immunisation rate of 6-month-old Māori babies, which stood at 68.2 per cent in December 2015 and dropped to 52.7 per cent in March 2019.
In May, a Ministry of Health report regarding declining childhood immunisation rates flagged the Bay of Plenty DHB as an area where Māori immunisation rates were of the "greatest concern".
"This decrease is primarily driven by a reduction in Māori immunisation rates with a resulting widening of the equity gap in infant immunisation coverage."
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The report identified potential causes for the declining rates such as time constraints for general practices, conflicting information around vaccine effectiveness and socioeconomic barriers such as lack of transport or concern about debts.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board child and youth portfolio manager Tim Slow said the DHB was aware of the trend and the strong correlation between low rates and deprivation.
He said many factors contributed to low immunisation rates, including high levels of declines, difficulty contacting parents and maintaining the training of staff who speak to parents about immunisation.
He said the high levels of people declining vaccinations were impacted by anti-vaccination campaigners, particularly on social media. This was internationally identified as one of the top 10 health risks worldwide, Slow said.
Slow said the DHB had an immunisation improvement project that aimed to address these issues.
The project offered to vaccinate children at home, liaison with other family and pregnancy health services, and strategy meetings by the DHB's Immunisation Accountability Group to improve messaging to the community.
Ngāi Te Rangi's chief executive Paora Stanley said the "sad" statistics for Māori speak for itself.
He said the Primary Health Organisation had trouble reaching the most vulnerable in the community, many of whom are Māori.
He said anti-vax resistance to vaccination was mainly a "middle class issue" and engaging Māori and impoverished communities was the main challenge.
He said more well-off neighbourhoods tended to have more doctor clinics than lower socio-economic ones.
Delivering health services at a community level was crucial to reach marginalised groups, he said.
"Accessibility and affordability - those are the two big barriers," he said.
Tauranga midwife Deb Boyd urged her clients to get their baby immunised at 6 weeks.
She said new parents "not getting around" to vaccinating their baby was more of an issue than anti-vax sentiment as far as she knew.
Parents had regular contact with health experts, such as Plunket, during the first five or six weeks of a baby's life and this encouraged them to get their baby vaccinated, she said.
However, this petered out as the baby got older, which could lead to getting vaccinations done slipping off the priority list, she said.