Continuing improvements across a range of immunisation indicators were seen in Australia in 2020, a new report released by the National Centre of Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) today shows.
The NCIRS Annual Immunisation Coverage Report 2020 examines Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) data for children, adolescents and adults. This is the first NCIRS annual coverage report to present whole-of-life data from the AIR, with adolescent and adult data included for the first time.
The report found ‘fully vaccinated’ coverage in 2020 in young children increased overall at the three standard age milestones, reaching 94.8% at 1 and 5 years and 92.1% at 2 years.
“While this report mostly reflects vaccinations due before the COVID-19 pandemic, as coverage is assessed 6-12 months after vaccines are due, other NCIRS reports have shown no impact of the pandemic on vaccination uptake in young children in Australia in 2020,” Dr Frank Beard, Associate Director, Surveillance, Coverage, Evaluation and Social Science at NCIRS said. “This information is available in in our COVID-19: Impact on routine childhood vaccination uptake in Australia report and Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on routine vaccinations in Victoria, a published study.”
The Annual Immunisation Coverage Report 2020 also found that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination coverage in adolescents by 15 years of age continued to increase, reaching 80.5% in girls and 77.6% in boys in 2020. HPV vaccination protects against the types of human papillomavirus that most commonly cause cervical and other types of cancer and genital warts.
“Modelling suggests that sustained HPV vaccination coverage of over 80% will be sufficient to eliminate the vaccine-targeted HPV types, and Australia looks well placed to achieve this,” Dr Beard said.
However COVID-19 pandemic impacts were seen on HPV vaccination course completion in 2020, with the proportion of adolescents aged 11-14 years who received their second dose of HPV vaccine in the same calendar year lower in 2020 than in 2019.
“With further school closures and disruption to school-based vaccination programs in 2021 we expect to see continued impacts of the pandemic on adolescent vaccination,” Dr Beard said. “While state and territory governments have implemented catch-up programs, it will be very important to monitor coverage to ensure our progress towards elimination is maintained.”
The report also shows persisting issues with timeliness of childhood vaccination, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and socioeconomically disadvantaged children, and those living in remote areas.
“As younger children are generally more vulnerable to severe disease, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and socioeconomically disadvantaged children even more so, vaccination at the earliest appropriate age, in line with the National Immunisation Program schedule, is important to protect these children,” Dr Beard said.
While the report indicates that recorded influenza vaccination coverage in adults increased in 2020, reaching over 60% in those aged 65 years and above (over 75% in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults), recorded zoster vaccination coverage remained low at just over 30%. However, the authors note these figures likely underestimate true coverage due to underreporting of adult vaccinations to the AIR.
Dr Beard said, “The increased influenza vaccination rates in 2020 likely partly reflect the public messaging around the importance of influenza vaccination in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“As Australia’s borders re-open and international visitors increase we could see an unusual spike in influenza cases over summer. Influenza vaccine should still be widely available and is recommended for anyone aged over 6 months who has not yet received their annual influenza vaccine in 2021,” Dr Beard said.