World Immunisation Week: Are your family's vaccinations up to date?
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23 April 2014
 
The Whanganui District Health Board (WDHB) is urging parents to embrace World Immunisation Week (28 April - 2 May) by checking that they and their family are up-to-date with vaccines required to keep themselves, and those around them, safe.
 
The 2014 global theme ‘Are you up to date’ is all about impressing on people that immunisation protects against an increasing number of diseases, from infancy to old age.
 
WDHB communicable disease & immunisation coordinator Karen Howard says she can’t stress enough, how important it is for children to complete their full course of vaccines to protect them against preventable diseases such as measles, and to receive their immunisations when they are due. 
 
Ms Howard says the WDHB views World Immunisation Week as a good time to remind parents that missing or delaying immunisations increases their children’s risk of getting a preventable disease and reducing the protection vaccines provide at a time when it’s needed most.
 
“Because children’s immune systems have not had much exposure to illness, they are very vulnerable to contracting serious diseases,” says Ms Howard. “Immunisation is a proven and effective way to protect children and keep them healthy.”
 
“It’s almost like your children are being provided with their own personal ‘bodyguard’ to protect them against the serious threats posed by illnesses such as measles, pneumococcal disease and whooping cough.”
 
The immunisation schedule in New Zealand is structured to provide the best protection for children when they are most at risk. To fully protect a child from preventable diseases, they must be vaccinated at six weeks, three months, five months, 15 months and at the age of 4 and 11.
 
Girls also need to receive a course of the HPV vaccine to provide protection against cervical and other HPV-related cancers, as well as genital warts. This vaccine is available for Year 8 girls at school, or free from a girl’s GP till her 18th birthday.
 
Ms Howard says Public Health nurses are currently working in schools on the consent process for Year 7 boys and girls Boostrix vaccination to protect against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. This will be delivered in schools from 26 May to 18 June alongside the HPV vaccination.
 
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health (MoH) have clear expectations that 95 percent of eight-month-olds will have received their six-week, three-month and five-month immunisations on time by December 2014 to provide greater individual and community protection against preventable diseases.
 
And in 2014, a new vaccine that protects against rotavirus (a stomach bug) has been added to the national schedule. This vaccine is available free to babies born after 25 March.
 
Ms Howard says it’s important people understand that a person who is up-to-date with their immunisations not only protects themselves but they help protect their family/whanau and the wider community.
 
“The more people who are fully immunised, the harder it is for outbreaks of preventable diseases to spread,” says Ms Howard. “We are lucky to have vigilant primary health care practice nurses, supported by the Whanganui Regional Health Network (WRHN) who continue to provide a great immunisation service to help protect all of us in the Whanganui region.”
 
Families can have their children vaccinated free of charge at:
  • their local doctor’s practice
  • the weekly clinic (Tuesdays, 9am-5pm) at WRHN’s Heads Road offices
  • the monthly clinic (first Monday of each month, 5pm-7pm) at Whanganui Accident & Medical clinic).
The WDHB fully supports the push to focus this year’s seasonal influenza immunisation programme towards pregnant women and their newborn babies.
 
WDHB clinical nurse manager public health, community and rural Itayi Mapanda says the influenza vaccine can be given at any time during a woman’s pregnancy and there are no safety concerns around this.

Given that healthy, pregnant women are up to 18 times more likely to be admitted to hospital when suffering from influenza than non-pregnant women, she hopes pregnant women in the Whanganui district will take the opportunity to receive a free vaccination against the illness.

“New Zealand College of Midwives say pregnant women are at particularly high risk of severe complications and death from influenza because of the changes that occur to their immune and other systems during pregnancy,” Mrs Mapanda says.

“Of equal importance, the National Influenza Specialist Group tell us that influenza immunisation in pregnancy offers protection to the newborn baby during the first few months of his or her life.

“This group also says as well as pregnant women, we need to encourage all eligible adults, including younger people, who have ongoing medical conditions to consider free immunisation. Research shows there is a degree of complacency among younger people in particular which we need to overcome to protect them. Their message is: You are never too fit to get hit by influenza.”
 
Influenza immunisation is free from primary health care practice nurses until July 31, 2014 for New Zealanders at high risk of complications – pregnant women, people aged 65 and over, and anyone under 65 years of age, including children six months and older, with long-term health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory disease (including asthma), kidney disease and most cancers.
 
The influenza vaccine for the 2014 Southern Hemisphere season includes two new strains based upon recommendations from the World Health Organisation on the strains most likely to spread and cause illness this season. The composition is:
  • A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus
  • A/Texas/50/2012 (H3N2)-like virus (New)
  • B/Massachusetts/2/2012-like virus (New).
For further information go to www.fightflu.co.nz, www.health.govt.nz/influenza, www.immune.org.nz or call 0800 IMMUNE 0800 466 863. It is important to note that the influenza virus is different from a cold virus. A cold virus only affects the nose, throat and the upper chest and lasts for a few days.