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Thursday, 3 December 1998
Page: 1347


Mrs ELSON —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Can the minister advise the House of the progress of the government's campaign to immunise Australian children against measles? What data is available on the immunisation rates?


Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Health and Aged Care) —I thank the honourable member for her question. The measles control campaign started on 3 August this year and wrapped up on 6 November. It had very strong support from members right across the House, and I thank members very sincerely for their support.

It was the biggest single public health campaign ever run in Australia's history. We were doing it for two reasons. The first is that the National Health and Medical Research Council advised me that we should bring forward the second measles vaccination from 12 years of age to five years of age. Secondly, the World Health Organisation was predicting that Australia would face an epidemic of measles in the next 12 months. This gave us the opportunity to attempt to basically immunise the whole of the primary school age population in Australia.

The results are that we managed to get to 1.3 million Australian children directly through schools, which is really an extraordinary effort—7,200 schools around Australia. A further 10 per cent of children were vaccinated at a local health clinic or by their general practitioner through the campaign. Six per cent of students were not at school on the day the teams came around. They are currently being followed up through general practitioners and local government, and an estimated two to five per cent of children had already had the vaccination.

So our best estimates are that, over the last four months, we have been able to get to 94 per cent of all Australian school children between five and 12 years of age. This is a highly acceptable level of measles vaccination and, quite clearly, will prevent us from having the epidemic that was predicted.

The other interesting thing is that it gives us very good data on the rate of side effects and reactions to the measles vaccination. There is a very tiny group that nonetheless gets a lot of publicity that prior to our campaign was predicting up to 334,000 adverse reactions. Just today I got the definitive data and, rather than having 334,000 adverse reactions, we had 71—and 71 adverse reactions in 1.3 million school children is one adverse reaction for every 18,300. Most of those adverse reactions were fairly trivial—rash, fever and faintness. They accounted for well over half the adverse reactions.

There were five serious adverse reactions—anaphylaxis, which is a life threatening condition—but at one in every 260,000 children that is a tiny incidence. I am pleased to say that all those children have successfully recovered. This is something that all of Australia can be proud of. It is an example of preventive health. It is an example of everyone working together to achieve a fantastic health outcome.