Health disparities between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians continue to be a priority for the Australian national and state/territory governments. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are significantly more affected by low birth weight, chronic diseases, trauma resulting in early deaths, and poor social and emotional health.

Historically, immunisation has been, and remains, a simple, timely, effective and affordable way to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, delivering positive outcomes for people of all ages. While vaccination coverage rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have improved, timeliness remains an issue. More needs to be done to improve on-time vaccination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, given that they have a higher risk of contracting vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs), and at an earlier age, compared to non-Indigenous Australian children. 

National Indigenous Immunisation Coordinator

Raising the profile of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health should be a core responsibility of and high priority for the whole health sector to achieve sustainable health and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Through the National Indigenous Immunisation Coordinator (NIIC) position, currently held by Katrina Clark, NCIRS coordinates the NCIRS Cultural Governance Group.

NCIRS Cultural Governance Group

The NCIRS Cultural Governance Group provides advice to NCIRS and, via NCIRS, to relevant stakeholders, for example, Commonwealth, state and territory health departments on areas including:

  • how best to improve the uptake and timeliness of immunisation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • how to identify and eliminate barriers to immunisation
  • how to provide a cultural lens over NCIRS and selected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vaccine preventable disease/immunisation-related research projects.
Membership

Members of the NCIRS Cultural Governance Group are Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander people with lived and connected expertise related to cultural knowledge and immunisation. These include individuals from state and territory health departments/public health units, Aboriginal Health Services funded by states and territories, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services, along with individuals with experience working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander immunisation or expertise in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vaccine preventable disease/immunisation-related research.

NIIC responsibilities

Responsibilities of the NIIC include to:

  • promote awareness of the National Immunisation Program to increase vaccination uptake among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families

  • liaise and consult with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) to identify barriers to achieving optimal immunisation coverage

  • provide advice to the National Immunisation Committee (NIC) on issues identified through consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and other stakeholders involved in delivering immunisation services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 

  • ensure effective vaccination policy development and program delivery by informing policy and practice through research and surveillance activities relating to immunisation and VPDs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people   

  • assist with and provide cultural advice on activities within NCIRS, including evaluation of immunisation programs, surveillance activities and areas related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research. 

  • coordinate and chair NCIRS Cultural Governance Group.

Data analysis

NCIRS has been a leader in the use of surveillance data to evaluate and to track trends in morbidity due to vaccine preventable diseases in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

NCIRS produces regular reports on VPDs and vaccination coverage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These reports show relevant routinely collected data on notifications, hospitalisations and deaths, and childhood and adult vaccination coverage. The reports are modelled on comprehensive national VPD surveillance reports, also produced by NCIRS, and provide a comparison of VPD burden and vaccination coverage in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians. The fourth edition of the report, covering 2011–2015, was published in the Communicable Diseases Intelligence in November 2019. These reports have also been modified for use by Aboriginal health workers and other staff without clinical experience working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health (published as Vaccination for Our Mob).

Program evaluations

  • National Indigenous Pneumococcal and Influenza Immunisation (NIPII) Program – completed in 2004

  • Hepatitis A vaccination program added to the National Immunisation Program in 2005 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia (conducted for the Australian Government Department of Health, 2012–2014) [Final report]

  • New South Wales Aboriginal Immunisation Healthcare Worker Program – Stage 1 – completed in 2015 [Final report]

  • New South Wales Aboriginal Immunisation Healthcare Worker Program – Stage 2 – completed in 2017 [Final report]

  • National Influenza Immunisation Program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children aged 6 months to <5 years [Final report

Last updated September 2020