Papakura Courier

Equity gaps being exposed

Child immunisati­on numbers continue to lag in south Auckland

- STEPHEN FORBES Local democracy reporter Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

Counties Manukau District Health Board says south Auckland healthcare providers appear to be caught in a ‘‘seemingly impossible catch up phase’’ as they try to tackle declining child vaccinatio­n rates.

The concerns were outlined in a recent paper to the DHB which says immunisati­on rates fell considerab­ly between March 2020 and March 2021 and have continued to drop since.

The Ministry of Health aims for 95 per cent of children to be fully vaccinated at eight months, 24 months and five years of age.

But the rates across the board in south Auckland are much lower and it’s something the Counties Manukau DHB is keen to arrest.

Figures show 85 per cent of children in Counties Manukau were fully vaccinated at eight months of age in February, but only 67 per cent of Māori babies were fully immunised. That compares to 83 per cent for Pasifika infants, 89 per cent of Europeans and 98 per cent of Asian children in the same age group.

Childhood immunisati­on includes the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, as well as vaccinatio­ns for pertussis (whooping cough), polio, diphtheria, tetanus, rotavirus, influenza and Covid-19, for those who are eligible.

‘‘We need a whole shift of thinking. Instead of just the Covid-19 vaccinatio­n programme, we need a whole whānau vaccinatio­n programme. ’’

Te Puea Winiata Turuki Healthcare chief executive

A Counties Manukau DHB spokesman said it has already set aside funds to invest in its immunisati­on programme, but it is not seeking additional support from the Ministry of Health.

But Turuki Healthcare chief executive Te Puea Winiata said it’s very difficult for primary healthcare providers in south Auckland to maintain their staff and capacity to carry out vaccinatio­ns when they don’t have certainty of funding :‘‘We need certainty of funding so we can target key communitie­s.

‘‘Winiata said the fee for service contracts it has with the DHB for Covid-19 vaccinatio­ns, which sees it paid per event, means it is very difficult to plan ahead.

‘‘I think we definitely need more investment and we need a whole shift of thinking,’’ she said. ‘‘Instead of just the Covid-19 vaccinatio­n programme, we need a whole whānau vaccinatio­n programme.’’

Dr Nikki Turner is the medical director of the University of Auckland’s Immunisati­on Advisory Centre and said the fall in child immunisati­on rates is a nationwide problem and began before Covid-19 struck in 2020.

She said the lower vaccinatio­n levels for Māori children aged five and under is a sign of the growing equity gaps in the health system, which have only become worse under the pandemic.

Turner said families in lower socio-economic communitie­s like south Auckland are often struggling to find housing, or put food on the table and keeping up with child vaccinatio­ns isn’t seen as a priority. ‘‘And a lot of the children aren’t enrolled with a GP, so they aren’t embedded in the system and that’s a big problem,’’ she said.

Turner said two of the most pressing issues with the drop in child vaccinatio­n rates are whooping cough and measles and the poor immunisati­on rates in areas like south Auckland need to be taken seriously.


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