Measles outbreak prompts Brisbane parents to consider early vaccination for babies

In the nine months since Samuel was born, his mother Angela Perks has followed his immunisation schedule down to the minute, but she is worried it is not enough.

Key points:

  • Queensland experienced a spike in measles cases in 2019
  • Brisbane mother Angela Perks says doctors are "on the fence" about early vaccination
  • The AMAQ says evidence suggests young babies retain their mothers' immunity

After a "petrifying" measles outbreak in Queensland, she is now too scared to take him out of the house and is seriously considering vaccinating him earlier.

Last year was Queensland's worst for measles in more than two decades, with health data revealing 74 cases diagnosed in 2019, more than five times the average from the previous four years.

Two weeks into 2020, the highly contagious disease is showing no signs of slowing down, with the first case of the year already confirmed on the Gold Coast.

Ms Perks, who has lived in Brisbane all her life, said the number of recent diagnoses emerging in south-east Queensland was "really scary".

"Every year you hear about one or two cases popping up but it feels like literally every week there's another measles alert coming out," she said.

The dramatic spike in cases prompted Ms Perks to consult several health professionals about immunising her son sooner, but she found they were "on the fence" about what she should do.

"I just wanted a definitive answer … I'm getting mixed messages," she said.

"You just love your kids and you just want to do right by them."

Early jab 'usually not necessary'

Australian Medical Association of Queensland (AMAQ) president Dilip Dhupelia acknowledged it had been a "very bad year" in terms of measles cases in Queensland, but he said it did not warrant earlier vaccination.

Queensland measles cases

2019 74
2018 14
2017 8
2016 15
2015 21
Source: Queensland Health


"We have national guidelines that are based on world's best research," he said.

"There's plenty of evidence that babies in the first 12 months of life have sufficient immunogenicity acquired from their mothers.

"It's usually not necessary to have the injection before then but there may be special circumstances."

Under the National Immunisation Program, it is recommended children have two doses of the measles vaccine — first when they are 12 months old and then when they are 18 months old.

But there are exceptions

Travelling to places where measles is endemic can be enough to prompt doctors to vaccinate babies as young as six months old.

Another Brisbane mother, Louise Grimbergen, said getting her six-month-old son immunised early was a "no brainer" because her family was planning to visit a country experiencing an outbreak.

"It was really about putting the health of my child above everything else and I'll do whatever I can to protect him," she said.


But Ms Grimbergen said the surge of cases in Queensland had also affected her at home.

"It's totally changed the way I live my day-to-day life," she said.

"I don't take him out to shops anymore … it's really quite scary. I now limit his activities and [time in] large crowded spaces."

Dr Dhupelia said while he understood the increased fears, keeping children "housebound" was not necessary.

"Parents are concerned and the concerns are reasonable — measles is a deadly disease, it kills babies," he said.

"But the chances of you getting measles within Australia is not very high unless you've been in contact with somebody who's had measles."

Of the 74 Queenslanders diagnosed in 2019, fewer than 10 per cent were children under the age of five.

Dr Dhupelia said parents could be confident babies under the recommended vaccination age would be protected, but ultimately it was up to individual families to decide what was best.

"This is a discussion that really needs to be had with your family doctor," he said.

"But if the vaccine is given any time between the six and 12 months they still have to have the two injections when they reach 12 months and again at 18 months."


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published