Doctors support vaccine stance

SUNSHINE COAST doctors hope the government's new hardline stance on vaccinations will help turn around the region's 'poor' immunisation record.

Queensland Health says the rate of people objecting to vaccination in areas of the Sunshine Coast, especially the hinterland, is the second highest in Australia, beaten only by the Northern Rivers area of NSW.

Under an expanded Federal Government vaccination scheme, parents will lose up to $2100 if their children are not fully immunised.

From next year, parents who don't have their children immunised will miss three payments of $726 available under the Family Tax Benefit A end of year supplement.

Children will also be vaccinated for meningococcal C, pneumococcal and chicken pox, bringing to 12 the number of diseases covered by the scheme.

The number of vaccination sessions will rise from five to six.

Existing exemptions will continue to be available for people who register as "conscientious objectors" to immunisation.

Nambour GP Dr Wayne Herdy said the reforms provided a significant incentive for parents who did not have their children vaccinated.

"No Australian government will ever completely remove the opportunity for parents to make their own choice," he said.

"But these new incentives will encourage those who might not find the time or haven't got a moral objection to immunise."

Figures show that throughout the Shinshine Coast public health area there were 62 notified cases of whooping cough in the month to August 22, compared with 95 in the four previous weeks.

The total number until September was 667.

Dr Herdy said some parents who did not believe in vaccination wrongly assumed that once their child got sick, their illness was easily treated.

"Although rare, children can suffer serious complications from measles, swelling of the brain or even death," he said.

"With illnesses such as whooping cough, there has been a reliance on antibiotics which will only help stop the infection being passed on.

"Over time the infection becomes stronger and then stronger antibiotics are required."

Dr Herdy said in some pockets of the Sunshine Coast the vaccination rates were as low as 80% in the hinterland.

"The official Queensland Health figure is a little higher - about 85%," he said.

The state average vaccination rate is about 90.3%.

Last week Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton told media the government must introduce "active surveillance" to monitor side effects instead of relying on doctors and patients to report problems through "passive surveillance".

Dr Hambleton said doctors strongly supported immunisation to protect children against life-threatening illness.

But he called for taxpayer funding of Australia's medicines regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is entirely funded by user-pays charges on the pharmaceutical industry.

He said the TGA needed to work "better and quicker" to ensure prescribing advice to doctors always included the most up-to-date data on clinical trials and any side effects.

Last year, health authorities took weeks to suspend a flu vaccine that caused fits in children.