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UNSW study highlights need for refugee immunisation strategy

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13 September 2017
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A UNSW study has found immunisation policy for refugees differs substantially across states and territories, highlighting the need for a national strategy.

The policy review of Dr Abela Mahimbo, Dr Holly Seale and Dr Anita Heywood has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

People of refugee background are likely to be under-immunised before and after resettlement, but this is the first study to date that has evaluated refugee specific immunisation policies in Australia.

It finds a clear need for a Commonwealth policy that would ensure consistency across jurisdictions and immunisation coverage among refugees, in line with the national approach.

Dr Mahimbo says the 2017/18 Federal Budget announcement of free catch-up vaccines for refugees is a commendable start to ensuring equal access.

“Pockets of under-immunised populations are a public health issue as they not only heighten refugees’ risk of vaccine-preventable diseases but can also lead to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases within the wider community,” she said.

“The best way to solve this issue is to ensure all refugees are adequately immunised, equivalent to the Australian immunisation schedule.”

Besides the lack of a national policy for catch-up immunisation for refugees, there are other factors in the patchy vaccine coverage of refugees.

Complexities in delivering catch-up immunisations include:

  • difficulties in planning and implementation of complex catch-up schedules

  • multiple service providers and ensuring completion of catch-up immunisation among families with multiple members

  • insufficient training on refugee-specific health needs among general practitioners.

At the individual’s side, there may be difficulties in navigating the health system, as well as language, health and health system literacy barriers.