Strengthening Australia’s immunisation program

The Australian Government is continuing to improve Australia’s world leading vaccination program through the Australian Immunisation Register Amendment (Reporting) Bill 2020, which enters parliament today.

This Bill supports and builds upon the longstanding action of the successive Governments to ensure that Australians have access to safe and effective vaccines and that we maintain world leading immunisation rates.

Currently, not all vaccine providers make a record in the Australian Immunisation Register (the AIR) when a vaccine is administered, which means that individuals or health professionals may not have access to vaccination history. This information could be vital in an emergency, when undertaking medical treatment and in managing an individual’s health and wellbeing.

The effect of the amendments in the Bill is to ensure all vaccination providers report vaccines given, including any COVID-19 vaccine, to the AIR.

These changes will ensure that every Australian can access their vaccine history through this safe and secure register and support the administration of COVID-19 vaccines and other lifesaving vaccines, including those against the flu and meningococcal.

While the Government strongly supports immunisation, it is not mandatory. Vaccination will remain voluntary and individuals will retain the fundamental choice to choose not to vaccinate.

The Australian Government is a strong supporter of immunisation in that it is a safe and effective way to prevent the spread of many diseases in the community that can cause hospitalisation, serious ongoing health conditions, or even death.

The Australian Government has acted decisively to secure production and supply agreements to secure early access to 134 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to Australians in 2021-21 and 2021-22 through an investment so far of $3.3 billion.

In addition to the significant investment in COVID-19 Vaccines, the Australian Government invests over $400 million each year though the National Immunisation Program (NIP) to protect Australians against 17 vaccine preventable diseases.

The NIP provides free vaccines to eligible people, including children, adolescents, the elderly, pregnant women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people against conditions such as pneumococcal, meningococcal, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, shingles, human papillomavirus (HPV) and influenza amongst others.

The need for the Australian Immunisation Register Amendment (Reporting) Bill 2020 arose from the need to provide more Australians with information about their immunisation history, to support the roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine and the ongoing administration of the NIP.

Australia continues to have a high level of vaccination reporting and the AIR data entered is sufficiently reliable for the administration of childhood immunisations due to a number of policy and program settings which encourage reporting.

For example, Australia’s immunisation coverage rates for children continue to be at a record high, compared to the rest of the world. As at September 2020: 94.90 per cent of all Australian children aged five years and 97.03 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children aged five years were fully vaccinated.

However, reporting of adolescent and other adult vaccines is lower and less reliable. For example, the reporting of vaccinations against Herpes Zoster and Pneumococcal for older Australians is around 40 per cent and reporting for seasonal influenza is around 50 per cent.

The AIR provides Australians with an Immunisation History Statement (IHS) which displays all immunisations that an individual has had that are recorded on the AIR. The IHS is can be viewed and printed via Medicare Online, myGov, the Express Plus Medicare mobile app, or My Health Record. Vaccination providers can print an IHS on behalf of their patient.

Public consultation on the proposed changes indicated a high level of community support for these improvements and it is pleasing to note that key stakeholders, including health peak bodies have indicated their public support.

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