Posted 9 October 2019
Children attending medical practices in the wealthiest areas are more likely to receive a free flu vaccine and appear to benefit most from state-funded vaccination programs, a study published in the Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics Journal found.
Researchers from the University of Adelaide observed overall vaccination coverage in children under five years of age increased more than five times from 2015 to 2018 at 542 general practices across Australia.
However, the increase in coverage from 2017 to 2018 rose 17 percentage points in the wealthiest areas compared to 11 percentage points in least advantaged areas.
"The discrepancy in flu vaccine coverage was not evident when analysing children's and families socioeconomic levels, only when we analysed the practices they were attending," lead researcher Carla Bernardo said.
"We need to ask ourselves: what is being done differently at general practices in wealthier suburbs that leads to differences in vaccine coverage?
"Perhaps the practices in wealthier areas offer longer appointments to patients and there are more opportunities to offer free immunisation; or perhaps they have more practice nurse capacity which means that they have the staff who can administer the immunisation," Bernardo said.
The researchers suggest interventions to improve vaccination coverage would benefit from promotional campaigns targeting practices and GPs in low socioeconomic areas.
The research also found that children with additional health conditions were more vaccinated than their peers, suggesting a heightened awareness of the need to protect against flu when other conditions (such as severe asthma) were present.
Global estimates have found that up to 105,000 influenza-associated deaths occur annually among children aged under five.
The NSW government began funding the program early last year for children under five years of age - the group that had the highest rates of laboratory-confirmed influenza and influenza hospitalisation between 2006 and 2015 in Australia.
"In conclusion, we found free influenza vaccinations increase coverage in at-risk populations but promotional campaigns may be required to maintain higher vaccination coverage," Bernardo said.
The University posted a short video on influenza vaccination coverage in children on YouTube yesterday.