On Thursday, January 11, 2018, a major report entitled, ‘Child Deaths from Vaccine Preventable Infectious Diseases‘ between 2005 and 2014 was published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Report authors – National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS), the Sydney Children’s Hospital Network and University of Sydney researchers – cited 54 child deaths in NSW during the research period were a direct result of diseases for which a vaccine is available.

Of the 54 deaths, the researchers involved in collating the report considered 23 were preventable, or possibly preventable, should the children have been vaccinated.

In relation to the other 31 child deaths, the researchers suggested that, while they were not preventable at the time they occurred, 16 of these cases would have today be preventable through maternal vaccination during pregnancy.

Notably, influenza was responsible for nearly half of the 23 “preventable” deaths.

Since release of the report, there have been renewed calls from doctors in addition to the calls from August, 2017, to make the influenza vaccine free to all Australians.

In Australia, childhood influenza vaccination is recommended for all children aged over six months, and is available free of charge to those individuals considered at high-risk under the National Immunisation Program.

Speaking to SBS, NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant said the government needs to consider its position on this, and highlighted the need for parents to speak to their GPs about vaccination today.

“The NSW government has been in discussions with the Commonwealth government about the importance of considering whether the childhood influenza vaccination should be on the National Immunisation Program.

“We are encouraging parents to go to their GP and get children over six months of age vaccinated,” said Dr Chant.

“We know that under five-year-olds are an important group that suffer a lot of impact in the flu seasons – they are the group most likely to be hospitalised, particularly the under three’s.”

National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance Acting Director, Prof Kristine Macartney said the report highlighted the need for parents and healthcare professionals to follow recommendations in the Australian Immunisation Handbook.

“Immunisation has been successful in dramatically reducing the number of childhood deaths from infectious diseases in Australia.

“After last year’s flu season, which was one of the worst to occur in recent years, it is important for parents to speak with their doctor about the influenza vaccine to ensure their child is protected,” Prof Macartney said.

“Although the majority of influenza-related deaths occur in the elderly, it is important to know that previously healthy people of all ages, including children, can die from complications from influenza.

“Most of the influenza-related deaths we recorded in children occurred in those under five years,” said Prof Macartney.

According to the NCIRS report, of the 54 child deaths from vaccine preventable diseases, some babies were too young to be vaccinated, and children under six months of age who are classified (in most cases) as too young to vaccinate, should be protected by herd immunity.

Speaking to AAP, NSW Minister for Health, The Hon. Brad Hazzard MP said that since coming into power in 2014, his party had committed $130 million to vaccination efforts, with vaccination rates in children sitting at almost 94 per cent.

Furthermore, the NSW Health Minister criticised the anti-vaccination movement, urging Australians to consider scientific evidence, and to vaccinate their children.

“As Health Minister and a scientist, I have to say that people who are anti-vaccination, anti-vaxxers, have no scientific evidence for what they are doing, and they are playing with people’s lives,” said Mr Hazzard.

The report data has been tabled in NSW Parliament by the Ombudsman, whose Child Death Review Team commissioned the work.

In Australia, influenza vaccination is recommended in the Australian Immunisation Handbook for all children, particularly those under five years of age.

For more information, download the full report here.