Australian children dying from preventable diseases

Dozens of Australian kids have likely lost their lives in the past decade to diseases for which there are vaccines, a new study has found.

Researchers in New South Wales found that between 2005 and 2014, there were 54 child deaths in the state from influenza, whooping cough, meningitis and other preventable diseases.

Of those, 23 were considered entirely preventable, while another 15 could have been avoided if the mother had been vaccinated during pregnancy (Australian health authorities have since begun recommending new mothers get vaccinated).

"There is scope to reduce child deaths, particularly from influenza, meningococcal B and pertussis," says the research, published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The study avoids mention of the anti-vaccination movement, which has spread in the last two decades after a fraudulent paper alleging a link between vaccines and autism was published by the British Medical Journal in the late 1990s. The paper was later retracted and the author, Andrew Wakefield, struck off the UK medical register.

Instead, the researchers single out Australia's National Immunisation Program, which fully funds some vaccines, but others are only funded for children considered at-risk.

"Two thirds of deaths occurred in children with no identified comorbidities," the study states. "Maternal vaccination along with increased uptake of childhood influenza vaccination could reduce child deaths, particularly from influenza."

Australia's immunisation schedule isn't dissimilar to New Zealand's, which also offers a range of vaccines funded for all, and others for at-risk groups only.

The death of a newborn girl from whooping cough in Christchurch made headlines in 2014. Doctors said the baby could have survived if more people were vaccinated against the deadly disease.

Another child died during an outbreak of whooping cough in 2004, and 159 were hospitalised.

In 2016, a 23-year-old Australian woman died of a persistent measles infection, partly blamed on low immunisation rates against the disease, allowing regular outbreaks.