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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26800

Ms GEORGE (4:56 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) notes the cost of providing pneumococcal vaccine would be approximately $60 million per year;

(2) notes that in 2002 there were 1,897 cases of pneumococcal across Australia and 168 deaths;

(3) notes that to date the Government has only agreed to fund pneumococcal vaccine for a small proportion of children at risk;

(4) notes that the cost of pneumococcal immunisation of around $500 per child is prohibitive for many families; and

(5) calls on the Government to act urgently upon the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council to provide pneumococcal immunisations free to all children.

I have submitted this motion because I believe it is time for the federal government to urgently act on the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council to provide pneumococcal immunisations free to all children. Back in September 2003, the council recommended that all children under the age of two be vaccinated against the disease.

This deadly disease kills and seriously disables more Australians than meningococcal C for which there is, as we know, a government funded vaccine. Regrettably, pneumococcal does not seem to have had the kind of public attention and awareness that meningococcal has received across the nation. Yet in 2002 there were 1,897 cases of pneumococcal across Australia and 168 deaths from it. It takes only a sneeze, a cough or a kiss to transmit pneumococcal. Half the children who contact pneumococcal at a young age are left permanently disabled by it. Survivors of invasive pneumococcal can sustain severe brain damage, cerebral palsy, deafness and blindness.

The federal government's decision not to fund this vaccine for all young children just does not make sense. The council recommended that pneumococcal vaccine be placed on the official schedule of recommended vaccinations to be administered as a three-dose series at two, four and six months of age. Yet, for the first time that I am aware of, the government has not followed the recommendations of this council. Currently the vaccine is only available on the government program to a limited number of children most at risk. I am pleased at least that it has been identified that large numbers of children are very much at risk. But there is a gap in the government's procedures, because it leaves the vast majority of Australian families and parents facing a bill of around $450 to $500 to purchase the vaccine.

The government's stated position up until now has been that a universal program is still under consideration. A press release issued by the government earlier this year said:

The Australian Government is providing $21.23 million over the next four years for free pneumococcal immunisation programs for 91,000 children at most risk, including all children living in central Australia, all children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, and children with medical conditions that place them at increased risk from the complications of pneumococcal disease. As previously announced funding for a universal program is under consideration.

That has been the official government response to date but one has to ask: why is there this delay? In the view of a lot of people in the community, and on this side of the chamber, there is no excuse for not providing the immunisation and vaccination to all young children. The estimated cost is about $60 million per annum, which is a small sum indeed, in a budget of many billions of dollars, to save lives and to spare children from the prospect of permanent disability. I repeat that this is a potentially fatal disease which kills and seriously disables more Australians than meningococcal C, for which there is currently a government funded vaccine.

Last week, the Illawarra Division of General Practice wrote to me expressing their concerns about the inequities in the national immunisation program. The letter states:

The funded program—

They argue—

clearly disadvantages low-income families, as parents will have to choose whether to pay for the additional recommended vaccines that have not been funded. ... many families will simply not be able to afford these costs. This situation essentially places these lower-income children at greater risk of acquiring some preventable childhood diseases.

(Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Is the motion seconded?

Ms Hoare —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.