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October 30, 2002

New shots for the young

From: The Australian, Australia
Oct. 30, 2002

By Sue Dunlevy
October 30, 2002

CHILDREN, from babies up to teenagers, will be given extra injections to protect them against disease.

Newborns face three instead of two needles to guard against the growing incidence of pneumococcal disease, which can lead to paralysis, blindness, deafness, arthritis, middle ear infection and, in some cases, death.

Under the plan, which is likely to be adopted by the Federal Government, babies will have an extra injection at each regular immunisation visit – at two, four and six months.

The expert group that advises the Government on immunisation has also recommended a vaccine against chicken pox be added to the list for babies, while the current oral vaccine for polio may be replaced by an injection.

Teenagers also will be advised to have whooping cough vaccinations under the major overhaul of Australia's immunisation schedule.

The three new vaccines would cost around $100 million a year, but the Government has in the past accepted the advice of the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.

It has said there are around 750 serious cases a year of pneumococcal disease, which is caused by bacteria that can inflame the membranes surrounding the brain, or cause a blood infection.

Adding chicken pox to the schedule would help stem what can be a debilitating illness, the group said.

Children would receive a dose of chicken pox vaccine at 18 months and another between the ages of 10 and 13 years.

Although the disease is not usually life threatening, it causes significant economic loss, with parents staying home to care for sick children.

The group recommended replacing the oral polio vaccine with an injection to reduce the potential for the extremely rare side effect of paralysis.

And, for the first time, ATAGI wants teenagers between the age of 15 and 17 immunised against whooping cough in a bid to stop the spread of the disease, which is dangerous to babies.

There were around 9000 cases of the disease notified last year, even though around 90 per cent of children are immunised against it.

The recommendations form part of a new draft immunisation schedule, proposed by the group, which has been issued for public comment.

They come on top of the Government's recent decision to immunise 12-month-olds and 15- to 17-year-olds against meningococcal C.

Federal Cabinet will have to fund the additions to the scheme and industry groups believe some of the changes may be phased in.

Vaccination is not compulsory, but around 90 per cent of children are immunised, according to the official schedule.

Some schools and day care centres are reluctant to admit children who are not immunised.

© The Australian