Immunisation is a safe and effective way to protect against harmful communicable diseases and, at the population level, prevent the spread of these diseases among the community. Several vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, rubella and diphtheria, are now rare in Australia as a result of Australia’s high immunisation rates. See Infectious and communicable diseases.

The Australian Government provides free vaccines to eligible people, including young children, older Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and others who are at greater risk of serious harm from vaccine-preventable diseases, such as pregnant women. Additional vaccines may also be funded through state and territory programs, through the workplace or bought privately by prescription.

It is important to maintain high immunisation rates to ensure that these diseases cannot spread through the community.

What is the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases?

The Burden of Vaccine Preventable Diseases in Australia study estimated the immediate and future burden of newly diagnosed cases of disease (including premature death) and found that the rate of burden had decreased by nearly a third between 2005 and 2015. The decrease was driven by falls for diseases for which vaccines have been introduced in the past 20 years, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), pneumococcal disease and rotavirus (Table 1). The rate of burden decreased considerably among infants, children, and adolescents and young adults—age groups which are the focus of national and state and territory vaccination programs (AIHW 2019).

Table 1: Number of cases and burden (DALY per 100,000 population) due to selected vaccine-preventable diseases, Australia, 2005 and 2015

Disease

Year widespread vaccination introduced

Number of cases

DALY per 100,000 population

 

              2005

2015

% change

2005

2015

% change

Rotavirus

2007

241,000

47,700

–80

1.9

0.3

–85

Chickenpox

2005

95,200

55,300

–42

1.7

0.4

–75

Human papillomavirus

2007 for girls,
2013 for boys

545,600

291,000

–47

48.2

15.8

–67

Pneumococcal disease

2001 for at-risk infants, 2005 for all infants and those aged 65 and over

1,824

1,576

–14

20.4

15.1

–26

Hepatitis A

2005

1,200

720

–40

0.4

<0.1

–75

Hepatitis B

Early 1980s for at-risk groups, 2000 for all infants

580

340

–41

2.1

1.2

–44

Meningococcal disease

2003

369

201

–46

6.5

2.7

–58

DALY disability-adjusted life years (see Glossary)

Note: Rates age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population.

Childhood immunisation rates

All Australian children are expected to have received specific immunisations by a certain age according to the National Immunisation Program Schedule. Fully immunised status is measured at ages 1, 2 and 5 and means that a child has received all the scheduled vaccinations appropriate for their age.

In 2019, the immunisation rate for all children aged 1 was 94.3%; it was 91.6% for 2 year olds and 94.8% for 5 year olds (Figure 1). For Indigenous children in 2019, the national immunisation rates for children aged 1 and 2 were lower than the rates for all children. In contrast, the immunisation rate for 5 year old Indigenous children was higher than the rate for all children (96.9% compared with 94.8%).
 

The chart shows the percentage of children that are fully immunised has improved over time, and have remained relatively stable above 90%. A national immunisation target has been set at 95% of all children to be fully immunised.

The immunisation rate for:

  • 1 year olds remained relatively stable between 2001 and 2012. The slight fall in the rate for 2013 and 2014 may have been due to a change in the definition of ‘fully immunised’
  • 2 year olds increased markedly from 1999 to 2004 and remained relatively stable above 90% until 2013. Changes in the definition of ‘fully immunised’, made in 2014, may have contributed to the drop in 2015
  • 5 year olds increased from 74.4% in 2005 to 94.8% in 2019. Children who have had catch-up immunisations are included as ‘fully immunised’ even if they were not fully immunised when they were aged 1 or 2.

See Health of children.

Adolescent immunisation rates

A national HPV vaccination program (using the quadrivalent HPV vaccine, which protects against 4 types of HPV) was introduced for school-aged girls in 2007 and extended to boys in 2013. A new vaccine was introduced in 2018, protecting against 9 types of HPV. Of young people turning 15 in 2017, around 80% of girls and nearly 76% of boys were fully immunised against HPV (NHVPR 2019).

Adolescent vaccination is administered by state and territory health services through school vaccination programs which also include vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough and meningococcal disease.

See Health of young people.

Adult vaccination

In 2009, the Adult Vaccination Survey estimated that almost 3 in 4 (75%) Australians aged 65 and over were vaccinated against influenza. The same survey showed that pneumococcal vaccine coverage among the target population was 54% (AIHW 2011).

To date there has been no regular and nationally consistent source of data with which to estimate vaccination coverage in adolescents and adults. Population surveys have previously been used to estimate vaccination coverage in the adult population or in selected population groups.

The Australian Immunisation Register is a national register that details all funded vaccinations and most privately purchased vaccines given to individuals of all ages who live in Australia. It was set up in 1996 as the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register and renamed following its expansion in 2016. Adult vaccination data captured in the register will be reported when reliable coverage estimates can be obtained.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on immunisation and vaccination, see:

Visit Immunisation for more on this topic.

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2011. 2009 Adult Vaccination Survey: summary results. Cat. no. PHE 135. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 15 November 2019.

AIHW 2019. The burden of vaccine preventable diseases in Australia. Cat. no. PHE 263. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 15 November 2019.

Department of Health 2020. Childhood immunisation coverage. Canberra: Department of Health. Viewed 19 February 2020.

NHVPR (National HPV Vaccine Program Register) 2019. Coverage Data. Melbourne: Victorian Cytology Service. Viewed 15 November 2019.