TRAP PART 2
TRAP PART 2
Immunisation rates in parts of New Zealand are falling, putting lives at risk. Some babies and children are missed because they’re beyond the reach of health services. Others are deprived because their parents refuse to have them vaccinated.
For the first time, Stuff can reveal detailed data about the growing problem of vaccine refusals.
Senior Feature Writer
Senior Data Journalist
VACCINE REFUSAL RATES WHERE YOU LIVE
THE VACCINE REFUSAL CAPITAL
Welcome to Takaka, white sand and vaccine refusal capital of New Zealand.
Spot a six-year-old in the hippy holiday spot and there’s almost a 50/50 chance they won’t have had their recommended disease jabs.
New data shows that, in 2018, 44 per cent of Takaka five-year-olds were not fully immunised. Not because they couldn’t make it to the doctor, but because their parents made a conscious choice to decline the vaccinations.
With a national average of about six per cent of parents rejecting scheduled jabs, that makes the Golden Bay town of 1300 New Zealand’s hottest vaccine refusal hotspot. In the middle of a national measles outbreak, it also puts enormous pressure on health workers, knowing they must immediately contain any suspected cases or risk the disease’s rapid spread.
The vaccine decline data - obtained by Stuff under the Official Information Act - shows parents are most likely to refuse vaccines in communities around Tasman, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Northland and some parts of Waikato.
The numbers reinforce the idea that anti-vaccination hotspots are often concentrated in alternative lifestyle communities who try to live “natural” lives. While suburbs with high vaccine refusal rates tend to have higher than average proportions of Europeans, hotspots are far from universally white.
REFUSALS IN EVERY GROUP
Overall, the characteristics of vaccine refusal hotspots vary nationwide. High concentrations of vaccine refusers in Northland and higher rates among lower income communities suggest the profile of those rejecting vaccination is not clear-cut.
Clendon classifies vaccine refusers into “decliners” and “delayers”. The decliners are often alternative lifestylers who flock to Golden Bay and Motueka and are ideologically opposed to immunisation. While the health board wants every child to be immunised, they have limited resources and investing time in those populations is a lot of work for little gain, she says. Staunch refusers rarely change their mind, unless someone close to them suffers a vaccine-preventable disease. They can also be aggressive to staff.
However, health workers do make progress with “delayers”, Clendon says. Those are more likely to be Māori or Pacific children who have trouble accessing family doctors, who choose to delay a jab because a child was unwell on the day, or who are fence-sitters whose concerns can be talked through one-on-one.
INNOCULATION FOR MISINFORMATION
Petousis-Harris says health workers in areas with low vaccination rates could also be recording children as having declined vaccines, rather than acknowledging they had not been able to reach those families. However, she says the data lacks sufficient detail to draw clear conclusions.
Turner believes the apparently higher refusal rate among lower-income communities points to poverty, dispossession and lack of trust. While higher income hotspots often have entrenched anti-vaccination views for lifestyle reasons, those in poorer areas might be worried about vaccines, but if they were not enrolled with a family doctor, or constantly moving around, GPs or practice nurses never got a chance to answer those concerns.
To reduce vaccine refusal rates, Petousis-Harris says health groups need to work with vaccine rejectors, both online and in person, to debunk misinformation and respectfully listen to - and answer - their concerns.
Health authorities also need to step up information campaigns to show the real impact of vaccine-preventable diseases and pre-arm parents against common myths.
Turner says health authorities need to give more support to outreach services in the poorest areas.