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AMA backs moves to strengthen school immunisation requirements

23 May 2013

At its meeting in Sydney today, ahead of the AMA National Conference, the AMA Federal Council confirmed its support for moves to strengthen immunisation requirements when children enrol in school.

New laws were introduced to the New South Wales Parliament this week to prevent children who have not been immunised from attending schools and childcare centres.

AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, said today that, rather than an outright ban, the AMA is more supportive of measures that oblige parents to supply full documentation of their child’s immunisation status before they are allowed to attend schools.

“This would cover complete or incomplete immunisation records or conscientious objector status documentation,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The focus should initially be on primary schools.

“We are fortunate to have a high population of fully immunised children, and we can identify non-immunised children whose parents have signed up as conscientious objectors, but we need nationally consistent requirements so we can get action on the children around the country who are not immunised or who have not completed their full immunisation program.

“The parents of these children must be encouraged to make a decision before their children can enter school – either complete the immunisation or sign up as a conscientious objector.

“This would allow schools to more easily identify which children need to be sent home should there be a disease outbreak at their school.

“It would also allow schools to identify children who have incomplete immunisation and encourage their parents to go to their GP to complete the immunisation program.”

Dr Hambleton said that Federal Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, has taken up this issue by putting it on the agenda for the upcoming meeting of Health Ministers.

“The Commonwealth’s proposal to introduce nationally consistent policy for schools to assess and document immunisation status is welcome,” Dr Hambleton said.

“The process should also include a pathway so that children who have fallen behind with their immunisations can participate in a ‘catch up’ program relatively easily.

“The school and education sector will need to be actively engaged with this process to ensure that it is workable for them.

“The AMA would like to see all States and Territories work together with the Federal Minister to develop a nationally consistent approach to school entry and immunisation to raise childhood immunisation rates,” Dr Hambleton said.

Background:

  • vaccination has been demonstrated to be one of the most effective and cost effective public health interventions;
  • immunisation is an important tool to fight contagious disease by protecting individuals who are vaccinated, as well as those who are too young to be vaccinated - or those who are more vulnerable to serious complications due to underlying medical conditions - by reducing the risk of spread across the community (this is known as ‘herd’ or community immunity);
  • vaccines in Australia are regulated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). They are rigorously tested in human clinical trials to ensure they are safe before they are made available.  Once a vaccine has been registered, it will continue to be monitored for safety (including reporting of any adverse events);
  • according to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR), 91.4 per cent of children are fully immunised at 1 year; 92.7 per cent of children are fully immunised at 2 years, and 90.1 per cent of children are fully immunised at 5 years;
  • according to the second Healthy Communities Report, over 76,700 children are not immunised;
  • because immunisation rates are highest in two year olds, and lowest in five year olds, an initiative that targets school entry should have a positive impact on this apparent drop off;
  • between December 1999 and May 2012, the proportion of children with a recorded conscientious objection has risen from 0.23 per cent to 1.44 per cent.  This equates to 4271 children in 1999 and more than 30,880 children in 2012.

23 May 2013 

CONTACT:         John Flannery                       02 6270 5477 / 0419 494 761

                            Kirsty Waterford                  02 6270 5464 / 0427 209 75 

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Published: 23 May 2013