NEARLY half the teens in the Gympie region do not bother getting their school-based vaccines for deadly illnesses like cervical cancer, whooping cough and tetanus.
Figures obtained from the Sunshine Coast and Gympie Hospital and Health Service show between 33% and 58% (depending on the vaccine) of Year 8 students in the region were receiving their vaccines in the school immunisation program.
The tragic death of one-month-old Perth baby Riley Hughes from whooping cough this week has reanimated the vaccination debate.
Public physician Dr Rod Davison said an average 69 cases of whooping cough a year were reported in the Gympie region in the past five years, but none so far this year.
Gympie council immunisation provider Dr Rod Day said whooping cough, especially in adults, was "definitely" on the rise, mainly because the vaccine did not last a lifetime, and required boosters after about 20 years.
The danger this presents is to babies like Riley who cannot be immunised until they reach two months of age, and are not fully immunised until six months of age.
Dr Day said there was no doubt the anti-vaccination lobby had made inroads into Australia's immunisation rates, but those rates were improving since the government linked immunisation to Centrelink payments.
Three different vaccines are now provided in the School Immunisation Program for Year 8 students, and one vaccine for Year 10 students, funded by Queensland Health.
These are the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine (Gardasil), the Combined Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis vaccine (Boostrix) and the Varicella vaccine (Varilrix or Varivax).
Dr Davison said vaccination for HPV provided "important protection for strains of HPV causing 70% of cervical cancer, as well as some other genital and anal cancers in woman".
The vaccine also provided protection "from 90% of HPV-related cancers in men".
But in 2013, only 58% of Year 8 boys and girls in the Sunshine Coast, Gympie and Noosa council areas received the full course of three vaccinations for HPV.
This means about 2000 Year 8 boys and girls were under-vaccinated for HPV in that year.
"Available national data for 2012 indicates girls in the region had some of the lowest rates of uptake of this vaccine in the country."
Dr Davison said many students may have had or been vaccinated against chicken pox and thus would not require the vaccine.
"Diphtheria caused the death of an unvaccinated adult in Queensland in 2011," Dr Davison said.
"Occasional notifications of diphtheria are still received in the Sunshine Coast area and tetanus infections occur from time to time, although not in recent years in the Sunshine Coast."
In relation to whooping cough, between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2013, there were 16,442 cases of whooping cough notified to Queensland Health in children and adolescents.
During this period there were six deaths from whooping cough in Queensland.
Doctors plead for families to vaccinate
THE parents of Riley Hughes, the baby who died of whooping cough this week, have established a Light for Riley donation page to raise money to combat preventable diseases in the community.
"... our greater goal is to establish an environment where no parent ever has to endure the heartache we've suffered at the hands of an extremely preventable disease," they said.
"We're so overwhelmed by the gracious offers from so many of you, our hearts break for those of you who've endured similarly and we believe no parent should ever have to suffer this pain again.
"As a family, we know that this is only the tip of the iceberg. There are multiple issues surrounding the elimination of preventable diseases. We fully intend on tackling all these issues down the track in honour of our beautiful boy's legacy.
"For now, please see the link - pmhinmemory.everydayhero.com/au/light-for-riley - to donate and keep watching the page as we will never stop passionately campaigning, petitioning and trying to protect other families and children from the horrible circumstances we currently find ourselves in."