Government announces vaccine initiatives
The World Today - Friday, 11 June , 2004 12:28:00
Reporter: Louise Yaxley
ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Government has won praise for announcing it will fund the vaccine to prevent pneumococcal disease, but also stinging criticism for the delay of nearly two years since medical experts first said it should be funded.
The Health Minister, Tony Abbott, says the Government will spend $178 million on delivering the vaccine for all newborn babies and people 65 and older.
Labor calls it catch-up politics and says the Government still hasn't decided to pay for the chicken pox vaccine and the new form of polio vaccination.
Louise Yaxley reports.
LOUISE YAXLEY: The Health Minister, Tony Abbott, has announced all newborn babies and people 65 and over will receive the vaccine free from January the first next year.
There'll also be a catch-up program for toddlers up to the age of two.
And Tony Abbott says he struck a deal with the supplier, which means there'll be three months worth of the vaccine in Australia as a protection against any global shortages. He's defended the delay.
TONY ABBOTT: The reason why we originally delayed was because we were told that it would be impossible to access supplies of the vaccine until October this year, which would mean that it would be impossible to start a universal program until the beginning of next year. That was the advice we were given in January this year, after some serious discussions with the manufacturer that is still the position. So the fact is the Government has put this universal program into place as early as we could given the advice we got late last year from the National Health and Research Council that we should go ahead with the universal program.
LOUISE YAXLEY: But Labor's Julia Gillard doesn't accept his explanation.
JULIA GILLARD: There is no justification for the delay. We've got to remember that the Australian technical advisory group on immunisation first recommended these vaccines, including the vaccine against the deadly pneumococcal disease in September 2002. And then in September 2003 the National Health and Research Council said the recommendation is right, the vaccination schedule is being changed, and all Australians children should now have these vaccines, and the Government didn't do anything, didn't do anything in the Budget, didn't even include it as a line item in the Budget, as something that they were still negotiating. The Government only acted once Labor had made its announcement that it was going to fund these vaccines.
LOUISE YAXLEY: The Australian Medical Association has campaigned vigorously for this vaccination - and spoke out about its disappointment when the funding wasn't in the budget.
President Bill Glasson says this is good news.
BILL GLASSON: This is really about spending a dollar today to save five dollars tomorrow, but more importantly as well, to save the death of children, and save the death of many of our elderly people in our population, but as well as those who've often sustained long term complications of this disease, such as deafness and variations of cerebral palsy
LOUISE YAXLEY: But Dr Glasson's tempering that with a strong warning that governments should never ignore the experts.
BILL GLASSON: If they make the recommendation, then it should be public health policy that we fund them. They make those recommendations on evaluation of the proper scientific data, and the benefits it will give to the community. And for the government of the day to ignore those is very short sighted and in fact is ignorance.
LOUISE YAXLEY: Labor's health spokeswoman Julia Gillard points out there are two other outstanding recommendations that the government should fund new vaccines.
JULIA GILLARD: My call now is for Tony Abbott today to apologise to the families of children who have suffered while the Government has been equivocating about funding this vaccine, and also to do the right thing and fund the other two vaccines the experts say all Australian children should have - and that is, of course, the vaccine against chicken pox and the new form of the polio vaccine.
LOUISE YAXLEY: Mr Abbott defends the Government's record on immunisation.
TONY ABBOTT: Back in the early 90s childhood immunisation rights had fallen to 50 per cent. They're now back up well over 90 per cent. Back in 1996 we were only spending eight million dollars a year on vaccines. Now the Government's spending $143 million a year, and obviously that's going to be very substantially boosted by this new universal childhood pneumococcal vaccination program.
ELEANOR HALL: The Health Minister Tony Abbott, ending that report by Louise Yaxley.