This week is World Immunisation Week, which focuses on the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.
With Australia entering into its annual flu season and the search for a reliable vaccine to help the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic currently underway, now is a good time to take a closer look at how immunisations work and why they are so important in preventing the spread of disease.
How do immunisations work?
Immunisations save millions of lives each year and are recognised as one of the most successful and cost effective health interventions.
Vaccines use dead or severely weakened viruses to trick the body into thinking that it already has the disease. This allows your immune system to respond and create antibodies to protect you against future infection.
They work by producing an immune response in your body without causing illness.
Vaccines train your body to recognise and fight against specific germs. Next time you come across that virus, your immune system works quicker to produce the antibodies needed to destroy it. While you may still get a less serious form of the illness, vaccines help to ensure you are protected from the most dangerous effects.
What is Herd Immunity?
Herd immunity occurs when there are enough people in the community who are vaccinated against a disease to prevent it from spreading.
Immunisations protect not only those who have been vaccinated themselves but others in the wider community, including:
- unvaccinated people, including children too young to be vaccinated;
- people unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons; and
- people for whom vaccination has not been fully effective.
Herd immunity only occurs when a high percentage of the population is vaccinated. That’s why it is so important for those people who can be vaccinated to stay up-to-date with their immunisations to protect the greater population.
In Australia, the vaccination rate target is for 95% of the population to be vaccinated against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Australia’s National Immunisation Program, first established in 1997, aims to improve the national immunisation rate by providing free vaccines to eligible people to help reduce preventable diseases, such as measles and influenza. To find out more about the National Immunisation Program, visit https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/national-immunisation-program
Are vaccinations safe?
Vaccines used in Australia are thoroughly tested and monitored to ensure their ongoing safety. Before vaccines can be used in Australia, they must be rigorously tested on thousands of people in progressively larger trials.
If they are found to be safe and effective during the trial process, they can then be registered for use with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This approval process can take up to 10 years.
This video gives a more detailed look at how vaccines are tested and monitored for safety. Watch video here>>
Like any medicine, there can be minor side effects as the body’s immune system is stimulated. These include things such as low grade fever, or pain/redness at the injection site. However, serious adverse events from vaccination are rare.
Ongoing Monitoring of Vaccine Safety
Once vaccines are used in Australia, they continue to be monitored for safety.
SmartVax, established by Illawarra Medical Centre’s Principal GP, Dr Alan Leeb, is one tool that plays a major role in monitoring the safety of vaccines in Australia.
It works by sending an automated text message to patients 3 to 5 days after their vaccination enquiring if they experienced any reactions. GPs are notified of any medically attended adverse events and the de-identified data is also monitored by AusVaxSafety – a national vaccine safety surveillance system.
SmartVax is used by more than 300 general practices and immunisation clinics across Australia and contributes around 99% of all AusVaxSafety data nationally. In 2019, the program provided ALL of the data for seasonal influenza vaccinations and monitored approximately 330,000 influenza vaccination encounters.
SmartVax is currently being trialled in pharmacies through a new Australian pilot program led by The University of Western Australia, in partnership with SmartVax, MedAdvisor and the Queensland University of Technology. The trial will monitor the effects of flu vaccines administered at 30 pharmacies in Western Australia this flu season, with the aim of rolling it out nationally in future.
What about the safety of having multiple vaccines at once?
Australia’s National Immunisation Program recommends a number of vaccines be given to children early in life, to best protect them from dangerous infectious diseases. Often, these vaccines are offered as combination vaccines (two or more vaccines combined into a single shot) or concomitant vaccines (given as separate injections at the same time).
Some parents have concerns about their child receiving more than one vaccine at a time. However, as noted by both the Australian Government Department of Health and the Centres for Disease and Control Prevention, giving children several vaccines at the same time is safe and has been shown to induce the same immune response as if given separately.
Where can I get immunised?
Speak to your GP about getting up-to-date with your immunisations.
We are currently running flu clinics at Illawarra Medical Centre for this season’s influenza vaccine, as stocks become available.
All our immunisations are held offsite in our adjacent building to better protect our patients.
To check availability and book in for your immunisations, contact us on (08) 9208 6400.
To find out more about Immunisations at Illawarra Medical Centre, visit our Immunisation page>>
For further information on this topic, visit:
- Australian Government, Department of Health – Immunisation – https://campaigns.health.gov.au/immunisationfacts/top-facts-about-immunisation
- Australian Government, Department of Health – National Immunisation Program –https://www.health.gov.au/initiatives-and-programs/national-immunisation-program
- AusVaxSafety – http://ausvaxsafety.org.au
- Centres for Disease Control and Prevention – https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/multiple-vaccines-immunity.html
- Immunisation Coalition – https://www.immunisationcoalition.org.au/immunisation/immunisations-facts/
- SmartVax – http://www.smartvax.com.au
- World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/news-room/events/detail/2020/04/24/default-calendar/world-immunization-week-2020