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Drop in child immunisations blamed on COVID-19 fear factor over GP visits

Newshub logo Newshub 26/04/2022 Mark Quinlivan
Bryan Betty spoke to Melissa Chan-Green. © Video - AM; Image - Getty Images Bryan Betty spoke to Melissa Chan-Green.

Plummeting child immunisation has sparked concerns among health officials with rates dropping to the lowest point in two years. 

As of this month, only 82 percent of 2-year-old children across Auckland's ProCare GP network had received their childhood immunisations - well below the 87 percent rate this time last year and 90 percent in April 2020. Those figures were also worse for Māori and Pasifika.

Royal College of General Practitioners medical director Bryan Betty told AM a COVID-19 fear factor has put parents off taking their children to GPs for their vaccinations.

"These numbers are of huge concern," Dr Betty told host Melissa Chan-Green. "In particular, we're really worried about measles because we've got a combination of events occurring here; we've got these dropping immunisation rates… so with the opening of the borders, we may see measles in New Zealand.

Drop in child immunisations blamed on COVID-19 fear factor over GP visits
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"Measles is a dangerous illness, as we saw before COVID when we had the south Auckland outbreak."

On Tuesday, ProCare chief executive Bindi Norwell said lower immunisation rates were a result of less GP attendance amid COVID-19 lockdowns last year and in 2020. Dr Betty said that was concerning, given winter was around the corner.

"We've got these lower immunisation rates and this lack of protection for our young children - in combination with rolling into winter where people tend to congregate indoors so it could be very transmissible," Dr Betty said.

COVID, the flu, measles and RSV would all likely be circulating this winter, he said.

That number of viral illnesses circulating would be problematic, said Dr Betty.

"What we're potentially going to see this year is a very mixed picture with RSV, these winter illnesses plus COVID and the flu - so it'll be a very, very complex picture." 

Norwell said it was important people know it's now safe for people to attend GPs, particularly now all of New Zealand was in the orange traffic light setting.

She encouraged families to book in with their GP and catch up on any missed immunisations.

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