16 September 2010

Danger zones

We rely on herd immunity to avoid many disease - so where in Australia are vaccination rates dropping?
Map of Australia

The worst areas in Australia (darker gray): the Adelaide Hills, Maroochydore, Sydney's Eastern Suburbs and Byron Bay. (Data collected in 2008.) Credit: Australian Childhood Immunisation Register

Where there are high numbers of unvaccinated people, there is a risk of disease outbreak.

In Australia, the vaccination rate is on average 90% – but there are many regions of the country that have significantly lower coverage.

Some of the most poorly immunised regions are those that are notoriously ‘alternative’ and favour ‘natural remedies’, such as south-east Queensland, the northern rivers of New South Wales, the Adelaide Hills and the south-west of Western Australia.

Sydney’s affluent Eastern suburbs is another pocket with lower-than-average vaccination coverage.

In the northern rivers area (where the Australian Vaccination Network is based) there are towns, such as the regions around Byron Bay, where vaccination rates are as low as 70%. The ‘herd benefit’ of mass immunisation starts to break down for some diseases once vaccination rates drop below 65% in an area.

The upshot is that there are hundreds of children in parts of Australia who are at risk of ghastly but preventable diseases, says Paul Corben, the North Coast Area Health Service director of public health.

“The prospect of measles turning up in one of those communities is very frightening. It’s like standing next to a paddock filled with long, dry grass and flicking a lit match into it,” he says.


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