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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 4 Hansard (31 March) . . Page.. 1400..


MS MacDONALD (continuing):

Because the federal government has not fully funded the Australian standard vaccination schedule, or the ASVS, the Australian Medical Association withdrew its support for the NHMRC booklet last year, stating it was confusing for parents, general practitioners and other immunisation providers. In the past, these booklets have been a valuable and comprehensive source of information for parents. But the latest edition has caused only uncertainty.

Pneumococcal is the leading cause of meningitis in children under the age of five, causing on average 60 cases and seven deaths annually-more than meningococcal C, for which there is a subsidised vaccination.

Pneumococcal disease is an infection caused by the bacterium streptococcus pneumonia. If it is spread beyond the respiratory track it causes invasive pneumococcal disease such as pneumonia, infection of the middle ear and meningitis. The results of this can be various disabilities such as blindness, deafness, learning difficulties, meningitis, septic arthritis and osteomyelitis-bone infection-and, in extreme cases, death.

Pneumococcal is passed from person to person via droplets when coughing or sneezing, kissing or indirectly via toys and other soiled items. It can easily be passed from child to child through sharing toys, drink bottles and other items. Symptoms vary, depending on the site of infection and the age of the person, but may include shortness of breath, headache, cough, crying, tugging at the ear, fever, nausea, drowsiness and stiff neck.

Pneumococcal is four times more common than meningococcal. Yet the Howard federal government has ignored the recommendation from its own expert body that it should subsidise vaccinations for all Australian children against pneumococcal infections. Why has the Howard government ruled out implementing the expert advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council? Because of what it would cost to supply the vaccine free to all Australian children. In Australia, vaccines are evaluated for Commonwealth funding in the same way that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee evaluates drugs. If a vaccine meets a cost effectiveness threshold, it can be considered for funding in the Australian standard vaccination schedule.

It has been estimated that a national vaccination program to address pneumococcal disease in young children would cost $60 million per year. While this figure sounds high, the federal government is spending $290 million per year on meningococcal C vaccine. The Howard government has determined that, at this stage, implementing the council's recommendation and providing pneumococcal vaccine free to all Australian children is just not cost effective. The federal government has been attacked for this position. Health professionals from a vast range of organisations, including the Australian Medical Association, have condemned the government's decision.

Dr Ian Pryor, ACT AMA president, has given his full support to this motion I am presenting here today. Dr Pryor believes the federal government should fully fund the Australian standard vaccination schedule and, therefore, provide free pneumococcal vaccinations to all Australian children. The national branch of the AMA is also fully supportive of the recommendation for the federal government to supply pneumococcal vaccine free to all Australian children, and chair of the national AMA's Advisory Committee on Child and Youth Health, eminent paediatrician Dr Michael Rice, has been


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