A leading clinical academic says WA needs to invest in immunisation on the back of a Perth councillor calling for the return of council jab services for infants and children.
City of Bayswater councillor Dan Bull wants his council to back a motion for immunisation services to be included in the city’s 2023-24 budget.
“This is a time when we need to continue to invest in immunisation,” UWA’s Paediatric Infectious Diseases professor Christopher Blyth told PerthNow this week.
It comes after the city’s previous immunisation program comprising clinics and a school-based immunisation program providing free vaccinations to infants and school children was not included in the 2022-23 budget.
The services operated for 30 years and were partially funded by the Federal and State governments.
But a city report said it was unsuccessful in obtaining State Government funding to cover the cost of running the school-based program for 2023.
The city was also advised the Federal Government would not be reassessing its funding arrangements for immunisation clinics until mid-2023.
72 immunisation clinics were held each year in Bayswater, Maylands, Morley and Noranda, with about 750 to 1000 infants receiving immunisations every year before the service came to a halt.
Cr Bull asked councillors in August last year to approve a budget adjustment of $120,000 to recommence immunisation clinics and the school-based program for the 2022-23 financial year but the move fell on deaf ears.
“The reason for this motion is that this was a highly valued service in the community that was utilised by residents from a diverse range of socio-economic backgrounds and is worthy of further consideration by council as part of the 2023-24 business planning and budgeting process,” Cr Bull said.
Dr Blyth said he believed all arms of government should be involved in immunisation to ensure all West Australians could access services close to home at convenient times.
“WA continues to lag behind other States in key immunisation coverage indicators, meaning that as a community we need to continue to work together to ensure immunisation services are widely available, close to home and parents are well informed about the importance of immunisation,” he said.
Dr Blyth said most infants and children in WA were vaccinated but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had seen “plateauing” in the State’s immunisation rates for mostly adolescents but also in younger children.
“In Australia, although the fall in immunisation coverage is small compared with other countries including our near neighbours, it is still very concerning,” he said.
UWA School of Social Science associate professor Katie Attwell said historically immunisation coverage rates in WA had been lower than in other States and territories due to the challenges of vaccinating people in regional and remote areas.
“The percentage of infants and children in Perth’s suburbs who are fully vaccinated is higher than in the State’s regions, and generally in the low to mid 90s, depending on the suburb, with several sitting just under the target of 95 per cent,” she said.
Dr Blyth said access to immunisation and other health services were disrupted during the 2020-22 period, including community and school-based immunisation programs in WA, which had impacted overall immunisation rates.
“There has been an increase in vaccine hesitancy, particularly in some parts of the community which has impacted rates,” he said.
Dr Attwell said local governments could be excellent providers of infant and childhood immunisations.
“People can face access barriers to vaccinations based on factors such as language and culture,” she said.
“It is the job of governments and services to develop ways of overcoming these barriers, and local councils can be agile and receptive here.”
Dr Attwell said it was “unfortunate” other levels of government were defunding council immunisation services.
“They provide vaccines free of charge to the public with no appointment costs and we know that ease and convenience is very important to facilitating vaccination,” she said.
“However, if councils do not receive support from other levels of government and seek to fund these services by themselves, then this will have an impact on ratepayers and ultimately becomes a political decision for them.”
If Cr Bull’s motion is approved on Tuesday, it will cost the city just under $1700 to run each clinic, with 72 clinics per year costing about $120,000.
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