News & Events
Publication - Active SMS-based influenza vaccine safety surveillance in Australian Children
Nov 2017 - News
Australia’s novel, active surveillance system, AusVaxSafety, monitors the post-market safety of vaccines in near real time. This paper analysed cumulative surveillance data for children aged 6 months to 4 years who received seasonal influenza vaccine in 2015 and/or 2016 to determine: adverse event following immunisation (AEFI) rates by vaccine brand, age and concomitant vaccine administration.
7402 children were included in the analysis and no safety signals or excess of adverse events were detected.
NCIRS publications in the Medical Journal of Australia
Nov 2017 - News
The November 6 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia featured four publications by the NCIRS team and collaborators, covering a broad range of topics such as meningococcal B disease, zoster, pneumonia and vaccine refusal.
These publications included:
- a research article Epidemiology of invasive meningococcal B disease in Australia, 1999–2015: priority populations for vaccination;
- a research letter Rates of hospitalisation for herpes zoster may warrant vaccinating Indigenous Australians under 70;
- a systematic review Determining the contribution of Streptococcus pneumoniae to community-acquired pneumonia in Australia;
- and a letter to the editor No Jab, No Pay and vaccine refusal in Australia: the jury is out.
MEDIA RELEASE - New AusVaxSafety data reinforces vaccination safety
Oct 2017 - News
Innovative new AusVaxSafety data confirms the 2017 influenza vaccines to be safe. No vaccine safety concerns were identified in approximately 74,000 adults and children vaccinated since April this year.
In the past five months over 102,000 people who have received the influenza vaccine across Australia have been sent a follow-up survey 3 days after vaccination to monitor vaccine reaction rates in real-time. With over 70% response rates, consumers have consistently replied that any effects after vaccination were generally mild and within expected ranges. This data, largely provided by SmartVax SMS surveys, reinforces the safety of the currently approved influenza vaccines. Only 6.6% had any potential reaction and an even smaller 0.4% sought attention from a healthcare provider in the days after vaccination.
Deputy Director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) and paediatric infectious disease consultant Associate Professor, Kristine Macartney says, “We know the importance of vaccination and since implementing this program as an Australian first, we’ve received ongoing positive results that confirm and assure the safety of vaccines.”
“The AusVaxSafety results showcase how Australia takes a lead in feeding back information to the rest of the world in regard to influenza vaccination safety. Countries now entering winter in the Northern Hemisphere will be particularly interested in these results as they are starting to use 2017/18 vaccines containing the same strains shown to be safe in Australia,” she said.
AusVaxSafety is a national active vaccine safety surveillance system that monitors vaccine safety across more than 200 ‘sentinel’ sites. These include general practices (GPs), Aboriginal medical services, immunisation clinics and hospital clinics. Led by the NCIRS, this world-leading system actively monitors the safety of a number of vaccines and aims to increase public confidence in immunisation.
MEDIA RELEASE - NPS MedicineWise and NCIRS announce national partnership
Sep 2017 - News
NPS MedicineWise has partnered with the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) to deliver a landmark, nationally coordinated immunisation support program for Primary Health Networks (PHNs) across Australia.
The program, entitled the Primary Health Networks Immunisation Support Program, will be co-designed with PHNs to better support and coordinate immunisation providers and services in their regions. The aim is to ensure PHN efforts across the country deliver on National Immunisation Program goals and are as consistent as possible, while addressing specific challenges in their local areas.
Immunisation providers, including GPs, nurses, community health clinics, Aboriginal Medical Services, local councils and pharmacies will benefit from the new PHN immunisation programs which will be consistent with the Australian Immunisation Handbook guidance, but adapted to be more targeted to specific community and patient requirements.
NPS MedicineWise CEO, Lynn Weekes, says: “We are pleased to partner with NCIRS on such a nationally significant and essential undertaking to enhance the effectiveness of immunisation services throughout the country.
“Supporting the invaluable work of PHNs by ensuring they are well-equipped with consistent and tailored immunisation information for the health professionals working in their local communities, is our priority in the development of this new program.”
The program is in early stages of development during which NCIRS and NPS MedicineWise will undertake a systematic consultation process with PHNs and key stakeholders around the country to identify and respond to their particular challenges and requirements in the immunisation space.
NCIRS Deputy Director, Associate Professor Kristine Macartney, says, “The input and local insights we receive from PHNs will be crucial to informing the program’s development.
“This and the combined expertise of NCIRS and NPS MedicineWise put us in a strong position to work to ensure that future PHN immunisation programs are consistent and that they effectively deliver messages that are relevant to local communities and immunisation providers across Australia. This should enable us to protect more people from disease through effective delivery of immunisation. ”
About NPS MedicineWise: Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We receive funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.
About NCIRS: The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance of Vaccine Preventable Diseases (NCIRS) is the leading organisation in Australia working in research to support evidence-based policy development for evaluation of the National Immunisation Program, and surveillance of vaccine preventable diseases, vaccine coverage and vaccine safety. This work is funded through agreements with the Australian Government Department of Health. For more information on NCIRS visit www.ncirs.edu.auMore information »
Flu is a tragic illness. How can we get more people to vaccinate?
Sep 2017 - News
Most people don’t take flu seriously enough. from www.shutterstock.com.au
Flu (influenza) has traditionally been the underdog of vaccine-preventable diseases. People tend not to worry about the flu too much, and there are various myths about its prevention and the vaccine. It’s true most people experience flu as a mild disease, but many don’t recognise it can be more severe.
Each year flu is estimated to kill at least 3,000 Australians aged over 50 years alone. It took more children’s lives than any other vaccine preventable disease in Australia between 2005-2014, and is the most common vaccine preventable disease that sends Australian children to hospital.
The tragic death of eight-year-old Rosie Andersen from flu this week has followed the recent outbreaks in aged care facilities and subsequent deaths of residents in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. A 30-year-old father died earlier this month due to complications from the flu, and now Sarah Hawthorn, who was infected late in her pregnancy, remains in a coma, unaware her baby was safely delivered six weeks ago.
This year’s flu season has been a bad one. And it’s not over yet.
Australian studies have shown the flu vaccine can usually reduce the risk of flu in those who are vaccinated by 40-50%, and by 50-60% for children. Early indications are showing the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine may be lower.
Experts are calling for a better vaccine, which is needed. But even a more effective vaccine won’t address all the barriers to uptake.
Who’s most at-risk?
Annual flu vaccination is recommended for any person six months of age or older who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with flu. It’s free for certain groups at higher risk of the severe effects of the disease including:
• people over 65 (80% of whom are vaccinated)
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from six months to five years (12% of whom are vaccinated)
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 15 (34% of whom are vaccinated)
• pregnant women (45% of whom are vaccinated)
Why don’t they vaccinate?
Researchers have looked at why many people in these groups don’t have their yearly flu vaccine. A common theme emerges - health professionals are not recommending it enough, people aren’t aware they need it, they’re not sufficiently motivated, or they don’t have easy access.
Our research is now looking at the children who end up in hospital with severe flu. We’re trying to better understand the barriers to flu vaccination, along with vaccine efficacy issues.
We’ve heard that not only are health care workers not recommending it enough, some doctors are even recommending against it, as they don’t believe the child is at risk. This is even though over half of children hospitalised from the flu are those without medical risk factors. Other times it’s simple awareness - parents didn’t know their child can receive a flu vaccine if they’re over the age of six months.
Busy lives can mean making time to go to the clinic for a vaccine falls down the list of priorities. A four-year-old in our study was hospitalised only three days before a visit to the clinic had been booked.
Some of the children in our study were not theoretically at high risk of flu and so not in the group where the vaccine is free. This was a major barrier, as it has been in other studies in children and adults. Parents report to us that their child is up-to-date with their scheduled vaccines, but annual flu vaccination is not being ticked off as it’s not on the schedule.
The challenge with flu vaccine is it’s given yearly. In the UK it’s recommended and funded for all children of primary school age using a school-based delivery program and currently between 53-58% of children have it. When this many children are vaccinated there can be indirect protection of others who are not vaccinated because the virus is not able to spread from person to person as easily.
Misconceptions about the flu vaccine
Misconceptions about flu vaccine are also a barrier: that it causes flu, that it’s not effective, that it’s not needed. People might say they never get the flu, not realising symptoms can be mild or not noticed and they can pass it on to the vulnerable. Others reported their belief was that the flu was not a serious disease. Some believed contracting flu “naturally” was likely to provide greater immunity.
Some parents also have concerns about the safety of the flu vaccine. Australians were spooked by a 2010 incident when there was a temporary suspension of flu vaccine for children under five after reports of an increase in the rate of convulsions in children.
The one vaccine found to be the cause (BioCSL/Sequiris Fluvax™) is no longer approved for use in children younger than five, but there are other seasonal flu vaccines children can have. But public and professional confidence is yet to fully recover, despite having reassuring safety data.
Western Australia has had a free child vaccine program for years which was achieving relatively good coverage, but this dramatically declined after 2010, and coverage languishes at around 15% today. In other words, mud sticks.
How to improve uptake
To improve uptake we first need timely and accurate coverage figures. We now have the capacity to get coverage estimates from the expanded Australian Immunisation Register but these are not yet available.
We need to motivate and support health care workers to implement the recommendations, such as with automated reminders, incentives and performance indicators. Systems need to ensure people can get the vaccine easily - from the GP or other health clinic, the specialist clinic, the antenatal care clinic, or from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health worker.
Promoting flu vaccine to everyone is important, as is providing ease of access, awareness and opportunity. Although the flu vaccine isn’t perfect, it’s far better than no protection at all.
Updated resources for meningococcal vaccines
Sep 2017 - News
NCIRS has updated its meningococcal fact sheet and developed a new FAQ fact sheet for use by providers. The FAQ in particular provides answers to questions on the use of MenACWY vaccines. Please see links below:
Meningococcal vaccines for Australians [PDF – 711kB
Meningococcal vaccines – frequently asked questions [PDF – 590kB]
Updated resources for zoster vacines
Aug 2017 - News
The following NCIRS factsheets have recently been updated:
Zoster vaccine for Australian adults [PDF – 489kB]
Zoster vaccine – frequently asked questions [PDF – 389kB]More information »
Updated - Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition
Aug 2017 - News
The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition has been updated and can be viewed on the Immunise Australia website
The following chapters and appendices have been updated:
- Updates page
- Appendix 3
- Appendix 4
Registrations are now open for the next NCIRS Seminar on Wednesday 27th September 11am-12pm
Aug 2017 - Events
NCIRS Seminar Series 2017 #6 - Wednesday 27th September 11am-12pm
Addressing vaccine hesitancy and refusal
A/Prof Julie Leask – University of Sydney
Time: Wednesday 23rd August 11am-12pm
Location: Seminar Room 1 and 2, CMRI Building, 214 Hawkesbury Road, Westmead, NSW
Register here (for catering please)More information »
No, combination vaccines don't overwhelm kids' immune systems
Aug 2017 - News
Parents are concerned combination vaccines, which protect against several diseases at once, can be too much for a young immune system to cope with.
No parent likes seeing their child have injections. Yet, around 93% of parents across Australia protect their children against 15 serious diseases by giving them all the recommended vaccines on the National Immunisation Program Schedule. This success is due in part to the value of combination vaccines, which protect against two or more diseases in one go.
Combination vaccines mean kids need fewer injections overall. By adding several antigens (the part of the germ that stimulates the immune system) together in one vaccine, we can protect kids against up to six diseases in a few shots. These shots are typically given in a series of two or three injections over time.
Our new study released today in JAMA Pediatrics, backs the safety of a four-in-one combination vaccine – designed to protect against measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox) and known as the MMRV vaccine. We also show its added benefits in protecting kids by the time they reach pre-school.
Making a combination vaccine typically involves decades of research to ensure the precise balance of “active” components is included, the immune response to each component is effective, and even the slightest change in a vaccine doesn’t change its safety profile.
This is stringently regulated across the world, by groups such as the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia and Food and Drug Administration in the USA, before a vaccine is even trialled in humans, or indeed ultimately licensed for use.
Once these combination vaccines are used, their safety (as well as the safety of other vaccines) is also actively monitored. One new way we do this in Australia is by monitoring any side-effects in real time. Parents respond to an SMS survey about their child’s recent vaccination, the results of which are collated and posted online.
Too much to handle?
However, some parents question if giving an injection that protects against multiple diseases will overwhelm the immune system or be too much to handle. The answer is “no” for many reasons.
A review into parental concerns about combination vaccinations confirms the moment babies enter the world they are covered in millions of foreign germs. The infant immune system is no longer considered “immature” but is finely tuned to respond to the incredible number of viruses, bacteria and other things it meets early in life. Vaccines contain just a few antigens compared to what babies meet every day.
The researchers estimate that even if 11 vaccines were given to infants at one time, only about 0.1% of the immune system would be “used up”.
Read more: Explainer: how does the immune system work?
Rather than weaken the immune system, or putting it under strain, vaccines train the infant immune system to respond, without causing the terrible consequences of the disease itself. Combination vaccines do the same.
The design of vaccines has been increasingly tailored to leverage this unique biology, including the development of new combination vaccines.
For instance, in 2013, two new combination vaccines – the MMRV vaccine and a combination vaccine against the Haemophilus influenzae type b and meningococcus type c bacteria (Hib-MenC) – were added to Australia’s immunisation schedule, reducing the number of injections babies needed.
Tackling four diseases at once, and measles
Our new study evaluated the impact of one these – the MMRV vaccine – since it was added to the schedule.
Before the MMRV vaccine was introduced, kids were protected against varicella (or chickenpox) with a separate vaccine. And they received their second dose of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine at age four years, quite a big gap after their first-birthday dose of MMR.
By introducing this combination MMRV vaccine earlier (at 18 months), our study showed the second dose of vaccine against measles provided early comprehensive protection against this deadly disease.
While the first vaccine dose (given at 12 months) only gives a full immune response in about 90% of children, giving a second dose boosts immunity to more than 95% and also helps to provide longer lasting protection.
Our study showed not only that the percentage of children fully protected against all four diseases is now greater compared with when MMR was separated from the varicella vaccine, it is also occurring at a much earlier age.
“On time” vaccination (within 30 days of the recommended age) has now improved by 13.5% (from 58.9% to 72.4% of children). This means many more children are protected against measles, chickenpox, mumps and rubella (German measles) before entering pre-school.
Tackling four diseases at once, and safety
Another important part of our evaluation was to ensure that introducing this vaccine was safe. If the combination MMRV vaccine is given as the very first dose of measles-containing vaccine in very young children, it causes more cases of fever and a small increase in febrile seizures (a common, usually benign, but frightening convulsion in children) compared with giving the vaccines separately.
Our study examined if using the MMRV shot in the Australian program as the second dose would be linked to an increase in febrile seizures. When we examined all children who came to paediatric hospitals across the country with a febrile convulsion, then looked at what vaccines they had received, we found no increase in febrile seizures associated with this second dose given at 18 months.
So introducing this combination vaccine in 2013, which has taken decades to develop, has:
- reduced the number of injections children need
- helped improve the total number of children vaccinated on time, and
- has been safe.
In a nutshell
Combination vaccines not only mean fewer visits to the doctor or nurse for injections, they can have other benefits, as well as being safe.
Our study highlights how much information is considered before making any change to the immunisation schedule to introduce combination vaccines, and importantly, how carefully changes to the schedule are monitored and evaluated.
While combination vaccines might introduce extra antigens to a child’s immune system in one go, they are a tiny, tiny proportion of what children meet as they grow. Being vaccinated trains a child’s immune system to withstand some of the biggest and baddest germs they will encounter.
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