Call for nationwide Indigenous Hepatitis B vaccinations

Oct 2016 - SBS news - News

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are at significant increased risk of Hepatitis B, according to a new World Health Organisation report.

Its authors say that with the higher rate of Hepatitis B for Indigenous Australians - 3.6  cases per 100,000 compared with 1.1 per 100,000 in other Australians, a national immunisation program would be beneficial.

Royal Melbourne Hospital Infectious diseases expert Associate Professor Benjamin Cowie, one of the World Health Organisation report's authors, said they found that one case of Hepatitis B would be prevented for every 150 Indigenous Australians vaccinated.

"That's a very low number needed to vaccinate, compared with many of the other existing vaccination programs which are supported by the Australian government," Professor Cowie told SBS.

The research found a national immunisation program could prevent 550 new cases of acute Hepatitis B, and 23 cases of chronic Hepatitis B over a decade.

"By vaccinating just a proportion of those who remain susceptible amongst the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, hundreds of Hepatitis B infections would be prevented in the next 10 years," Professor Cowie said.

Hepatitis B is spread through bodily fluids, and can lead to chronic liver disease or cancer if left untreated.

All Australian babies are currently offered free Hepatitis B immunisations under the National Immunisation Program.

Free vaccinations are also offered for some at risk groups in some states.

This includes Indigenous Australians, as well as migrants from areas where Hepatitis B is widespread, including Africa, Asia, Russia and Eastern Europe.

In Victoria, immunisation is recommended, but not free, for people who are at increased risk.

Report Lead author, Kristine Macartney said the current system is inequitable and ineffective.

"When the vaccine's not free and it's not promoted, and it can't be just pulled out of the GP's or the clinic's fridge, we don't see high uptake of vaccine in that context," Professor Macartney said.

She said the vaccines should be free, but not compulsory.

Professor Macartney said it would also help to identify previously undiagnosed Hepatitis B cases.

Recipients would need to be tested before vaccination, and many don't know they have it.

"If we were able to provide the vaccine free at the time of seeing a patient, and at the time of ordering a test for Hepatitis B, we could then really improve coverage," she said.

Community worker with support group Hepatitis Victoria Sione Crawford has worked closely with Aboriginal adults at risk of contracting Hepatitis B around Australia.

He has been working on a prison program for Aboriginal people at risk of contracting Hepatitis B.

He said the absence of a national immunisation progam is a glaring oversight.

"We know that the disparity between Aboriginal health and non-Indigenous health in Australia is wide and we need to close that gap," Mr Crawford said.

"This is one really quite simple way to do that."

A spokesman for Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley told SBS, the focus on immunising children is considered to be the primary approach to immunisation.

The spokesman said independent experts regularly look at new evidence, such as the WHO paper, to assess whether immunisation is indicated and cost effective.

The Australian report will be published in the global journal of the World Health Organisation next week.

Zoster vaccine fact sheet and new FAQs now available

Oct 2016 - News

The NCIRS zoster vaccine fact sheet has just been updated. A new FAQ fact sheet is also now available which provides responses to common questions about zoster disease and zoster vaccine.

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2016 annual update of The Australian Immunisation Handbook now online

Sep 2016 - News

NCIRS has developed a slide set summarising the changes made in the 2016 annual update of The Australian Immunisation Handbook which is now available on the Immunise Australia website (available online only).

The 2016 update was approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in August 2016. It supersedes the previous version updated online in 2015. The original 10th edition of The Australian Immunisation Handbook published by the Australian Government Department of Health in March 2013 is now out of date.

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NCIRS's Kevin Yin receives "distinction” poster award at Control of Influenza conference in Chicago

Aug 2016 - News

Dr J Kevin Yin, senior research officer at NCIRS, attended the Options IX for the Control of Influenza conference in Chicago, USA, from the 24th-28th of August. He presented two posters on influenza research from NCIRS. The study entitled ‘Systematic review and meta-analysis of indirect protection afforded by vaccinating children against seasonal influenza: implications for policy was awarded with “distinction” poster award. Led by Kevin, with co-authors Anita Heywood (UNSW), Melina Georgousakis, Catherine King, Clayton Chiu, David Isaacs (CHW) and Kristine Macartney, this examines the evidence for herd immunity from influenza vaccination of children. Congratulations Kevin and team on this prestigious award!

Reducing vaccine preventable diseases in children: PAEDS Partnership Project

Aug 2016 - News

We are pleased to announce the award of our NHMRC-funded Partnership Project (APP1113851): Reducing vaccine preventable diseases in children: using national active hospital-based surveillance to evaluate and improve immunisation program performance.

This project is aimed at improving immunisation programs to most effectively and equitably prevent illness and death due to the two most prevalent vaccine preventable diseases in Australian children, influenza and pertussis.

Morbidity from influenza and pertussis remains a significant challenge. An average of 2,700 children are hospitalised from these diseases each year. Deaths also continue to occur from influenza and pertussis, even in previously healthy children and babies.

We will be undertaking a novel and systematic examination of how factors related to both the effectiveness and the uptake of vaccination contribute to controlling influenza and pertussis  in Australian children.

This project expands upon our national partnership of major paediatric hospitals in Australia: the Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance (PAEDS, network. We have established PAEDS sites in the major paediatric hospitals in five states (NSW, Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria), and will be adding a sixth site in Darwin in the Northern Territory. With total funding comprising of fifty-per cent support from the NHMRC and fifty-per cent from our funding partners, who are all relevant State and Territory and the Australian Government Departments of Health, our collaboration is well placed to conduct this cutting edge program-relevant research.

Our nationally representative team is comprised of immunisation and public health experts, epidemiologists and social scientists. Over the coming three years we will undertake a range of studies, including:

a) identifying in whom breakthrough disease occurs despite immunisation and why, and we will estimate vaccine effectiveness of new programs;

b) identify reasons for under or no-vaccination at the individual, community, system and policy levels; and

c) determine factors or gaps in immunisation policy and practice that can be changed to improve prevention of disease from influenza and pertussis in children.

For more information contact:

Ms Stoy Drinic –

A/Prof Kristine Macartney –


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2016 Influenza Vaccine Early Report: good safety profile in children

May 2016 - News

For fortnightly updates on influenza surveillance please see the AusVaxSafety webpage


With winter coming soon, it’s time to remind parents and patients to be vaccinated against influenza now. Influenza is a viral respiratory illness that is responsible for thousands of children and adults of all ages each year being admitted to hospital in Australia.

Active vaccine safety surveillance is conducted nationally in young children to monitor for the type and rate of reactions to each year’s new influenza vaccine. This program is called AusVaxSafety*.  As of mid-May 2016, the families of more than 1200 children aged 6 months to 5 years from more than 100 ‘sentinel’ locations across Australia have responded to SMS or email messages to give us feedback on how their child felt days after vaccination.

This is the first year that the new quadrivalent vaccines (containing 2 influenza A and 2 influenza B strains) are being provided under the National Immunisation Program.

Results of this surveillance indicate that the safety profile of the 2016 influenza vaccines in children is excellent and the type and rate of vaccine reactions is within usual limits. Only 9% of participants have reported any reaction. Reactions recorded have been mild and resolved within 1-2 days. The most commonly reported symptoms include tiredness, irritability, and pain, swelling or redness at the injection site. A fever was reported in less than 3% of children. A small proportion of children (1%) have sought medical attention for symptoms following immunisation, and these have generally not been directly related to vaccination.

No vaccine-attributable serious adverse events have been recorded for the patients in this program. It is also important to note that safety demonstrated in children provides assurance that the vaccine is safe among all age groups.

All Australians can benefit from receiving influenza vaccine. Across Australia, health departments, clinicians and other researchers are conducting ongoing surveillance activities to monitor vaccine uptake, safety and effectiveness, and influenza activity. The success of AusVaxSafety surveillance is due to the active engagement of the public whose participation allows for real-time feedback on the safety of each year’s influenza vaccine.

* AusVaxSafety surveillance is a collaborative initiative led by NCIRS and involves vaccine safety experts, state and territory public health systems, general practitioners and children’s hospitals across Australia. It is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. AusVaxSafety partners with and makes use of several computer-based surveillance systems, Vaxtracker, SmartVax, and STARSS, which send SMSs or web-based surveys to parents and carers seeking information on how their child felt after receiving the influenza vaccine. Results from 2015 AusVaxSafety influenza surveillance are available here.

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REGISTER NOW - Vaccines in Public Health Workshop 2016

May 2016 - News

Registrations are open for the upcoming Vaccines in Public Health Workshop to be held on 31 August and 1 September 2016.

For flyer Click here

This course is an elective within the Master of Public Health and Master of International Public Health programs at The University of Sydney. The course is available yearly to any health professional interested in vaccines and public health. Prior training or experience in epidemiology and/or biostatistics is recommended but not essential. Included in the course are interactive lectures, small group case studies on epidemiology, program implementation, Indigenous health, adverse events and public controversies presented by some of Australia’s leading researchers in immunisation.

Cost: $500 for 1 day - $1000 for 2 days (incl GST)

Online registration is now openclick here to register

For administrative enquiries please contact Karyn Phillips via email at

For further information on content of the workshop please contact Dr Aditi Dey via email at

NCIRS Influenza Fact Sheet Updated

Apr 2016 - News

The NCIRS Fact Sheet on Influenza has been updated to include the latest epidemiological data on Influenza vaccines for Australians in anticipation of this year's flu season. 

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Updated NCIRS Fact Sheet, FAQ and Position Statement on HPV Vaccination

Apr 2016 - News

The NCIRS Fact Sheet on HPV vaccination has been updated. The HPV Fact Sheet is also accompanied by a NCIRS Position Statement on HPV vaccination as well as a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document on the Quadrivalent Vaccine. Each of these documents is designed to include the most recent data available on HPV epidemiology as well as to address recently raised concerns about the HPV vaccine.

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New study shows efficiency of the PAEDS Network

Mar 2016 - News

The Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance (PAEDS) Network is an NCIRS initiative which conducts surveillance of serious childhood conditions, including vaccine-preventable diseases and markers for infectious diseases such as acute childhood encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain). The effectiveness of the program has been acknowledged anecdotally, but has not been validated empirically — until now. A new study published in the journal Epidemiology and Infection has provided data and analysis demonstrating that PAEDS is an “efficient, sensitive and accurate surveillance mechanism for detecting cases of childhood encephalitis—including those associated with emerging infectious diseases”.

The study piloted active surveillance for suspected encephalitis from May to December 2013 at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney, NSW. For the study, suspected encephalitis in children was identified using a variety of methods: the PAEDS method (consisting of nurses actively screening children’s admission records); monitoring of cerebrospinal fluid microscopy records; magnetic resonance imaging reports; and pharmacy dispensing records. Out of the four methods, the PAEDS method was the most efficient and accurate mechanism for detecting suspected encephalitis.

The study’s authors concluded that active surveillance significantly increased the ascertainment of encephalitis cases compared to passive approaches in monitoring. The study is titled Pilot surveillance for childhood encephalitis in Australia using the Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance (PAEDS) network and is authored by PN Britton, RC Dale, E Elliott, M Festa, K Macartney, R Booy and CA Jones. 

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