Capes vaccination rates invoke ‘herd immunity’ risk fears as experts cite rise in conscientious objectors

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Brecken Health Care managing director and GP Brenda Murrison says there are serious concerns around the Capes region’s low childhood vaccination rates.
Camera IconBrecken Health Care managing director and GP Brenda Murrison says there are serious concerns around the Capes region’s low childhood vaccination rates. Credit: Ailish Delaney /Bunbury Herald

New immunisation data has raised serious concerns about the Capes region’s low vaccination rates, which are some of the worst in the country.

The data released earlier this month showed children under the age of two had worryingly low rates of vaccination against measles, flagging fears the sub-par results put the State’s herd immunity levels at risk.

Published data from the Australian Immunisation Register had the vaccination rates for two-year-olds at 82.53 per cent and one-year-olds slightly higher at 83.95 per cent.

While WA Health told the Times its figures showed the cover for two-year-olds across the Capes was 85.12 per cent, that was still below the State average of 91.36 per cent.

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Worse, immunologists said populations needed to hit about 92 per cent in cover to avoid break-outs of long-suppressed and highly infectious illnesses.

Brecken Health managing director Brenda Murrison said the new data was very concerning.

Dr Murrison, who operates clinics in Margaret River, Busselton and Bunbury, said it was “a real concern” that levels had dropped below the minimum rate needed to protect the wider community.

“I’d encourage the parents involved to have a discussion with their healthcare provider around this so that they can make the best immunisation decisions for their children,” she said.

“Immunisation/vaccinations are important for everyone, but I do feel living in a remote/regional area makes prevention even more important. Health services are stretched enough as is.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners chair of Specific Interests Child and Young Person’s Health Dr Leanne Jones told online news site newsGP that anxiety around vaccination during the pandemic had “potentially shifted people’s attitude” towards immunisation for the worse.

“Those areas in Australia where there are significantly lower vaccine rates in children can act as a gateway for diseases to come into the country that weren’t already here, through travel, or spread more widely the ones that are here,” she said.

A WA Health spokesperson said vaccinations protected against preventable diseases like measles that otherwise put children and others in the community at risk of “serious health consequences”.

“Although most babies are born with immune systems that can fight infectious diseases, immunisation plays a vital role in protecting against the more serious of these,” the spokesperson said.

“Childhood immunisation keeps children safe, and it is always better to prevent a disease than to treat it.

“Parents and carers are urged to ensure their children receive their recommended immunisations according to the WA childhood immunisation schedule.”

WA Health noted immunisation levels had declined nationwide since 2020.

The Times understands conscientious objection to vaccinations was also on the rise, with Augusta-Margaret River and Busselton local government areas considered hotspots for WA.

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