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Some truths about the “low” childhood vaccination coverage in Sydney’s eastern suburbs

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Among the hype and controversy prompted by the Australian Government’s recent announcement that conscientious objectors to childhood vaccination would lose childcare subsidies and part of the family tax benefit,1 including the accompanying media rancour,2 it is worth noting that published vaccination coverage figures based on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (the Register) are only an estimate of the extent of coverage. In the case of the eastern suburbs of Sydney, they significantly underestimate the true coverage.

In January 2002, we studied a cohort of children aged between 12 and less than 15 months residing in south-eastern Sydney; according to the Register, 81% had received all vaccination doses scheduled for the first year of life. Systematic follow-up — by contacting providers and/or parents — of one-third of the children recorded by the Register as being overdue for one or more do ses established that the overall proportion of children who were up-to-date with their vaccinations was, in fact, at least 91%.3

In March 2013, we undertook a similar follow-up survey, on this occasion focusing on children aged between 12 and less than 15 months who resided in the Waverley and Sydney City local government areas, where the Register-based coverage level was reported as being 87%. These areas were targeted…