Being up to date on immunisations can stop the spread of serious disease.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in human history (1). If a single person has the virus, 90 per cent of those around will catch it. The measles virus lingers for up to two hours – so if you ride the train or walk the grocery aisles after an infected person, you’re exposed.
Thanks to immunisation, local cases of measles had been falling (2). In 2014, Australia declared the end of endemic measles, but a recent spike is bringing it back into public consciousness (2). There have already been 108 cases in Australia this year, compared to 103 for the whole of 2018 and just 81 in 2017.
This leaves 2019 on track to be Australia’s second-highest year for measles since 1997 (3). And Australia isn’t the only country experiencing this surge. Similar trends have emerged in New Zealand, Japan and the US.
Professor Robert Booy, Chairman of the Immunisation Coalition, says measles is still common in other parts of the world including Europe, Asia, Africa and the Pacific.
“There’s always the threat of measles because people travel overseas and expose themselves to outbreaks in other parts of the world,” he says. “It’s happening now because the number of susceptible people who are vulnerable to infections has increased.
“Every year there are millions of children born who are only immune for a few months because of their mother’s protection. After about six or nine months, they’re vulnerable to measles.”
This is why it’s critically important for Australians to know their vaccinations are up to date, especially if they’re looking to travel. Professor Booy says it’s one of the key benefits of the My Health Record expansion.
“It’s a great way to document what protection you’ve received in the past and what you’re getting at the moment,” he says.
Knowing your immunity
Before a vaccine was introduced in Australia in the late 1960s, measles was a common illness. For some people, the infection was dangerous and caused blindness, brain damage or death. For others, it was simply an uncomfortable experience.
“I remember having it when I was in primary school. A lot of people remember it because there’s a rash and a fever and then you get a few days off school,” Professor Booy says.
“We know people born before 1966 have probably had measles, even if they can’t remember. That provides lifelong immunity. But those born since 1966 need vaccinations.”
The measles vaccine requires two doses to be most effective – and some adults born between 1966 and 1994 have only had one (4). All Australians have access to view their Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) but they’re unable to edit it.
My Health Record allows Australians to see their immunisation status and work with their GPs to ensure they are up to date on all their immunisations.
“Vaccinations are not only good for the individual, but good for the community,” Professor Booy says. “It protects you from transmitting disease to vulnerable people who can’t respond nearly as well to vaccination – newborn babies, people with compromised immune systems or the elderly. With measles we need at least 95 per cent of people to be immune to build herd immunity and stop transmission.”
Professor Booy recommends getting a booster shot if you’re not sure whether your measles vaccination is up to date. The details can then be uploaded to your My Health Record. This is especially important if you’re looking to head overseas where measles outbreaks are prevalent.
“If you already have immunity you’ll fight it off very quickly and the immunisation will have no effect,” he says. “If you don’t have immunity it will provide you with the necessary protection that you need. Either way, it’s safe and protective.”
Immunisations in My Health Record
Note: Your My Health Record stores new health information after the day it was created, so some of your historical vaccination information may not be there. You can speak with your GP and ask them to upload a shared health summary to ensure your My Health Record is up to date with your key health information.
If you can’t see a recent vaccination in your My Health Record, it might be that the provider is not connected. Encourage them to get connected by calling the Australian Digital Health Agency on 1800 723 471 (option 2).
- World Health Organization (2019). Measles. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/measles [Accessed 9 May 2019].
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2018). Measles in Australia. Retrieved from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/c828baef-75d9-4295-9cc9-b3d50d7153a2/aihw-phe-236_Measles.pdf.aspx [Accessed 9 May 2019].
- Department of Health (2019). National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Retrieved from http://www9.health.gov.au/cda/source/rpt_3.cfm [Accessed 9 May 2019].
- Greg Hung (2019). MEDIA STATEMENT. Retrieved from https://www.greghunt.com.au/media-statement-3/ [Accessed 9 May 2019].