MEDIA RELEASES

Leading Northland paediatrician calls for better performance

Nearly 80 vaccine-preventable diseases have been reported for infants in the last year and a leading Northland paediatrician is laying the responsibility at the feet of parents and caregivers as well as demanding even better performance from the health providers whose responsibility it is to give the immunisations.

With Northland currently having the lowest immunisation rate in the country, Northland DHB paediatrician Dr Roger Tuck is calling for all parents and caregivers to immunise their children on time.

“Immunisation is a key factor in the health and well-being of our children. Children are entitled to be vaccinated and parents who are not immunising their children need to know that they are actively making a decision not to protect them,” says Dr Tuck.

In the last 12 months there have been 79 notifications of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, meningococcal disease, pertussis, invasive pneumococcal disease and tuberculosis.

"The vaccine-preventable diseases that I see in my clinics and in my community are worrying. We see children with pertussis, and other serious infections that we know should be non-existent, or at least very rare, in our communities throughout Northland.

“Each preventable disease carries its own set of risks. Some are more serious at certain ages - whooping cough (pertussis), for example, is most dangerous in very young babies. Some are rare but very serious for most people who get them, such as tetanus.

Dr Tuck says that one of the concerns often expressed to him is that, at six weeks, children are just too young and fragile to be exposed to the ‘immunological challenge’ of vaccination. He also clarifies that the words vaccination and immunisation have the same meaning.

“At six weeks the infant’s immune system is already processing millions of antigens (substances that the infant eats, touches, inhales, including germs), that are identified by the immune system as coming from outside the body and that need identifying as either harmful or not so that the next time the infant is exposed to that substance, the immune system can mount a protective response if needed”.

“The additional antigens contained in the vaccination are tiny in comparison.  Infants are primed to be able to respond and only in exceptional circumstances is it recommended to delay vaccination on medical grounds. We even vaccinate premature infants and they are perfectly capable of responding appropriately by developing immunity.”

On the contrary, says Dr Tuck, the very young infant is much less able to cope with full disease-causing organisms.

“This is why immunising/vaccinating on time is important. There is a long and busy schedule of immunisations and it is very important that they are given at the appropriate ages to promote best immunity and starting on time give the infant the best chance of avoiding some pretty nasty diseases.”

Dr Tuck points out that another important benefit of the enhanced pneumococcal vaccination given to children is the significant protection it offers to the elderly in the whānau from pneumococcal pneumonia, which is a common killer of the elderly and frail.

“This is of great interest to grandparents like me.  If our children are immunised, it helps protect older people through herd-immunity that immunisations/vaccinations provide.”

Northland DHB’s First 2000 Days project ‘No Child Left Behind’ is the driver for ensuring that all children in Northland have equal access to universal screening, assessment and immunisation services. It also ensures that, where issues are identified, there is a ‘seamless’ and systems approach to intervention and treatment.

The First 2000 Days - Every Primary Healthcare Nurse Is A Child Health Nurse Conference for health professionals is being held on June 26 and 27 at The Copthorne, Waitangi.

Key note speakers include Dr Aniva Lawrence, who explores the inequities for children in Northland and Professor Innes Asher, presenting the health of our nation’s children – how could we do better?

Northland DHB’s First 2000 Days project lead Jacqui Western will be presenting ‘Why the time between conception and the fifth birthday really matters’.

For more information about the First 200 Days conference contact Jenny James at Te Tai Tokerau PHO.



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