School of Population Health

Immunisation Needs of Migrants, Refugees and Travellers

image - Immunisation Migrant

The NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Immunisation led by UNSW academic, Prof Raina MacIntyre convened a national stakeholder workshop at UNSW on August 9 which brought together leading infectious diseases researchers, clinicians, federal and state government policy makers.

There were two themes – one on immunisation issues for migrant and refugee groups and the other for immunisation issues for international travellers. This is the first time such a meeting has been held in Australia.

The Centre for Research Excellence convened this meeting to bring together key stakeholders from around the country to address immunisation needs of refugees, migrants and travellers, particularly in relation to “catch up” vaccines for older migrant and refugee children and awareness of important travel vaccinations. The workshop looked at practical solutions to ensuring older children who have immigrated to Australia are fully vaccinated according to the current Australian National Immunisation Program schedule. The workshop heard that currently catch-up vaccination is not routinely funded for such children, leading to risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases in under-immunised communities.

One of such outbreak presented at the workshop, which highlights the health problems is a large outbreak of measles in Western Sydney last year, linked with an under-vaccinated migrant population. Through migration, many of the children missed out on the vaccinations. This pocket of under-vaccinated children led to the largest measles outbreak in NSW since 1997. If we want to maintain measles control and prevent further outbreaks of measles, we need to ensure high coverage at a local level. This could be achieved by further education and more promotion of immunisation in low coverage communities, as well as funding of catch-up immunisation for migrants and refugees nationally. Parents might not be aware of the national immunisation program, may not have easy access to health care, or may not have the money to pay for “catch up” vaccines. There might be other language or cultural barriers, too.

Pre-travel immunisation is important for the prevention of vaccine-preventable diseases in the individual traveller but also to prevent importation of disease into Australia. In recent years, the number of typhoid cases has increased in Australia. Prior to 2007, there were only 50-70 cases a year, then it increased to 100 in 2008, 135 in 2011, 123 in 2012 and already this year it stands at 101 cases – with 32 of them in the month of January alone. Travellers returning to their country of birth to visit friends and relatives are at higher risk of typhoid and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Campaigns aimed at migrant communities are needed to increase awareness of travel risks and promote pre-travel immunisation.

This was the first workshop dedicated to issues of immunisation in migrants, refugees and travellers and will inform research priorities for the CRE, as well as allowing an exchange of ideas and solutions among the key stakeholders in the field.

Contact: Professor Raina MacIntyre, UNSW School of Public Heatlh and Community Medicine


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