Kids’ immunisations plunge under Covid stress


Childhood immunisation rates in Taranaki have suffered as resources poured into fighting Covid-19.

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Before Covid-19 hit, 89 percent of Māori tamariki and 91 percent of non-Māori were fully immunised at two years old.

But more of those born early in the pandemic, now aged 2, are not up to date with their shots.

Just 71 percent of Māori and 78 percent of non-Māori are now fully immunised at 24 months.

At this month’s Taranaki District Health Board meeting, deputy chair Bridget Sullivan asked why earlier improvements had been lost.

“We wanted to see some big gains, [but] it looks like we’ve not only not capitalised on what we’ve been doing, but it’s kind’ve got worse.”

TDHB chief executive Rosemary Clements told the board that immunisation rates, including for children, had fallen across the country.

“The capacity of the people who can immunise has been absolutely put into the Covid vaccination, to the detriment of the other immunisation programmes.”

Clements said public health nurses had been shifted to Covid response and Māori health providers had re-focused on the pandemic, “and the childhood immunisation have been left to further down the track.”

She said the DHB now had more trained vaccinators than ever and their contracts were being extended to help health providers catch up with non-Covid injections.

New ways of cooperating with Māori health providers would continue.

“Instead of saying ‘this is what you need to be doing,’ the idea is to work the way we have in Covid and work out where can we help each other, so that we can actually just get [childhood vaccination] done.”

TDHB was also contacting whānau whose tamariki might have missed scheduled vaccinations at 15 months because of movement restrictions in the Covid response.

The catch-up faced big challenges.

Board chair Cassandra Crowley said a big push in public health and communications was needed to counter doubts seeded by the Covid protests.

“We are seeing fatigue, and perhaps parents who were previously okay with vaccines are questioning those.”

Board member Patsy Bodger asked what the impact had been on vaccinating older children in schools.

Chief operations officer Gillian Campbell said schools had been reluctant to host vaccination clinics.

“Right at the moment schools have been really impacted by Covid and so they’re not wanting a [large] number of visitors on site.”

But she hoped childhood vaccinations would not be affected once the Omicron surge passed.

“We know we need to get back into schools, but the resistance from the schools around onsite vaccinations has only been around the Covid vaccinations.”

General manager of planning, funding and population health, Becky Jenkins, said new pathways to train vaccinators had been opened for Covid and should continue for childhood vaccinations.

“For example, there’s the opportunity that Covid vaccinators and MMR can be given by the same vaccinators, so there’s been some big shifts around creating flexibility and innovation.”

But Rosemary Clements cautioned that the Immunisation Advisory Centre (IMAC), which helps set vaccination permissions and training, hadn’t been as progressive as hoped.

“It would be really great to continue with a workforce that aren’t necessarily registered nurses.”

“Doing that has worked really well with Covid, with supervision, and we would like to continue that but we just need IMAC to come to the party.”

“When the borders open the flu, the measles, all of those things will come back through our borders and we will need to be ready for that.”

Between six weeks and 4 years of age, vaccinations cover rotavirus, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis), polio, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza, pneumococcal disease, measles, mumps, and rubella.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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