Former Australian Test Cricketer, VFL/AFL footballer, author and commentator, Max Walker, AM, joined public health experts at the ‘Equity in disease prevention: vaccines for the elderly workshop,’ held in Melbourne today (Friday, June 20), to tackle the monumental health challenges facing our greying nation.

Innovative, effective and long-term approaches to elderly immunisation were proposed to safeguard the health of our growing, ageing population, including the establishment of whole of life immunisation records.

Workshop convenor, Professor Raina MacIntyre, Head, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, UNSW and Director, NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Population Health Research, Sydney explained while more than 90 per cent of Australian children are fully immunised against 12 diseases under the Government’s free National Immunisation Program (NIP), tracked by the Australian Childhood Immunisation Registry (ACIR), only 50 to 60 per cent of older Australians are up to date with vaccinations.

“While we have an excellent health system that protects our children from contracting these diseases from birth, we could be doing much better for our elderly.”

Aussie cricket legend, Max Walker, 65, has first-hand experience of the toll that vaccine-preventable diseases can wreak. Having contracted shingles and whooping cough; observed his daughter, Isabella fight a severe bout of influenza at 2.5 years of age; braved his father’s near death from pneumococcal pneumonia while touring in the West Indies; and his father’s brother’s death from whooping cough, Max is an advocate for controlling infectious diseases to ensure healthy ageing.

“To me, healthy ageing means being able to do all of the things that I wanted to do, or should have done when I was younger.

“Vaccination and safeguarding yourself against vaccine-preventable diseases is pivotal to healthy ageing.”

Prof MacIntyre explained under-vaccination is leading to preventable suffering, hospitalisations and the death of older Australians.

“Healthy ageing is everyone’s business.

“We may all grow old, we all have loved ones who are elderly, and the economic future of the country will come to rely on ongoing contributions from older people to society, making healthy ageing a high priority,” Prof MacIntyre said.

Australian Immunisation Guidelines recommend older Australians be vaccinated against four diseases – pneumococcal disease, influenza, shingles and tetanus. Yet only pneumococcal pneumonia and influenza vaccines are funded on the National Immunisation Program (NIP).

To follow the conversation, use the hashtag #vaccineequity.