Child vaccination rates in NSW have climbed to record levels but parents in the anti-vaccination heartlands, which include some of Sydney's wealthier areas, are still resisting, the latest official figures show.
More than 93 per cent of one-year-olds and five-year-olds are fully immunised across NSW, the NSW Annual Immunisation Coverage Report showed.
The proportion of infants who had all their scheduled vaccines at 12 months increased from 92.8 per cent in 2015 to 93.5 per cent and coverage among five-year-olds was relatively stable, rising 0.1 per cent to 93.1 per cent over the same period.
The rate for two-year-olds was lower – most likely due to recent changes to the scheduled vaccines – but still cracked 90 per cent, according to the report released on Saturday.
Overall, child vaccination coverage was inching closer to the national target of 95 per cent, and undercounting meant true coverage rates were likely hovering around that goal, health authorities said.
But there were still pockets of vaccine refusers on the state's north coast, some of Sydney's wealthier suburbs and the city centre, where vaccinations rates were woefully low.
Northern NSW had the lowest vaccination rates at all three milestones, with 87.8 per cent of one-year-olds fully vaccinated, close to 9 per cent lower than the local health district with the highest rates, Far West Local Health District.
Just 87 per cent of two-year-olds were fully vaccinated in the LHD that covers the north coast including Tweed Heads, Byron Bay and the Northern Rivers.
Northern Sydney – from Palm Beach to the Harbour and west to Galston – had the second-lowest rate of 88.3 per cent for two-year-olds.
Sydney Local Health District (SLHD) – stretching from the harbour to Earlwood and Surry Hills to Homebush – was the only local health district in the state that did not record an increase among two-year-olds, with more than one in 10 not fully immunised, according to the report.
SLHD also had the second-lowest fully immunised rate (90.6 per cent) for five-year-olds after Northern NSW.
Vaccination rates at 24 months were also below 90 per cent in Northern Sydney, South East Sydney, South Western Sydney, Western Sydney, the Mid North Coast and Northern NSW.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said “populist anti-vaxxer messages” were still influential in some communities, which was “downright dangerous”.
“Young parents don’t necessarily have the knowledge of history and the awful impact that vaccine-preventable diseases used to wreak upon populations.
“They would not have even heard of what polio did to Australia in the 50s because they have been the beneficiaries of vaccination.
“My message to all parents is get your kids vaccinated. It’s the greatest gift you can give them. It’s life,” Mr Hazzard said.
Overall, the results were proof the government’s investment in immunisation was working, and expected the recent changes to the ‘No Jab No Play’ laws would lift vaccination rates even higher.
Since January 1, children cannot be enrolled in childcare without being vaccinated.
“Every health minister would like to see 100 per cent vaccination coverage,” Mr Hazzard said
“But over the last few years, as a result of programs initiated by the NSW state government, federal government and lots of assistance from GPs there is a better understanding that vaccination is one of the important ways families keep their kids safe.”
NSW Health director of communicable diseases Dr Vicky Sheppeard said a growing body of evidence showed state and national child vaccination records were under-reporting, suggesting the real coverage rates were hitting national targets.
“Once we take all the corrections into account we are pretty much at 95 per cent,” she said.
Aboriginal children had higher fully-immunised coverage than their non-Aboriginal counterparts at all three milestones, recording 93.8 per cent for one-year-olds, 92.2 per cent for two-year-olds and 96.6 per cent for five-year-olds.
The report credited the continued rise in vaccination levels to a number of strategies, including the $5.5 million Save the Date to Vaccinate campaign and smartphone app, the school vaccination program, the Aboriginal Immunisation Healthcare Workers program and education for GPs, nurses and midwives.
The only vaccine that did not reach more than 93 per cent of one-year-olds was the second dose of rotavirus, with more than one in 10 infants not fully vaccinated against the common cause of viral gastroenteritis.
Among teenagers, the first does of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was 86 per cent among girls and 83 per cent for boys. Coverage for the second HPV dose was 84 per cent and 82 per cent respectively.
Vaccination rates were signficiantly lower among the elderly, with fewer than half (47 per cent) immunised against pneumococcal and 71.6 per cent having the flu jab.