A new awareness campaign is underway to remind parents and caregivers of older children about the school based immunisation programme.
Children are offered free immunisations at age 11 against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough, and for girls at age 12, human papillomavirus (HPV).
“While infant immunisation rates have dramatically improved since 2008, immunisation rates for older children have stayed steady,” says Minister of Health Dr Jonathan Coleman.
“Parents of older children should have the same confidence in immunisation that parents of younger children have. Reducing the spread of whooping cough and preventing HPV has a big effect on the health of our young people.”
School immunisation programmes begin early in the school year, and many Year 7 and 8 students will be bringing home consent forms with the most up to date information on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.
“Schools are a convenient place for older children to get immunised against a range of preventable illnesses,”says Dr Coleman.
“Protection against these serious diseases is important. Tetanus spores can be deadly if they infect a cut or a scratch. We have regular outbreaks of whooping cough in New Zealand, and around 50 women a year die of cervical cancer, which is primarily caused by HPV.
“While the National Cervical Screening Programme has been very successful in adults, we’d like to see greater uptake of the HPV vaccination in young women to prevent the development of cervical lesions later in life – currently 62 per cent are fully immunised.
“Since the HPV immunisation programme began eight years ago, there has been a significant reduction in high grade cervical lesions in young women.”
The promotion includes a two week national radio campaign, digital advertising for parents who search online for information on immunisation, and information will also be provided for schools to use in their newsletters.
The Ministry of Health is working on improving the links between school based immunisation programmes and general practices so children who don’t have their vaccinations at school are offered them by their general practice.