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Expert calls NSW immunisation law 'over the top'

Published: 9:43AM Wednesday May 22, 2013 Source: ONE News

Childcare centres in New South Wales may soon be able to ban children who are not immunised, but experts here say such a move would impose on a parent's right to freedom of choice.

Australian Opposition Leader John Robertson said yesterday that he is working on an amendment to the Public Health Act, which would allow preschools and care centres to refuse children who have not been vaccinated.

And while NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said that changes will be made to the bill to allow for "special consideration" where there is grounds for exemption to vaccinations on religious or medical grounds, amended legislation will still be introduced in parliament next week.

But the idea is raising eyebrows with some in New Zealand, including the founder of the Immunisation Awareness Society.

Hilary Butler told TV ONE's Breakfast this morning that if the proposal to ban anti-vaccinated children from child care centres was passed into law, it would undermine parental rights.

"It's going to antagonise and embitter parents who want to make decisions for themselves," she said. "If you want parents to make good decisions, you have to credit parents with intelligence, you have to give them all of the facts, not just part of them."

Butler added that she thinks such legislation would also be "unnecessary" in NSW, due to the state already having a high rate of immunised children.

"It's completely over the top for a state that has a 94% vaccination rate for two-year-olds, that's the highest it's ever been in New South Wales, and I think it's extraordinarily punitive and it will backfire on them.

"Intelligent parents want intelligent information. Legislation means that you are not going to give parents any information. You are going to say to them you are going to do what we want or you will pay the price," she said.

Mixed feelings

However, Dr Elizabeth Wilson from Starship Children's Hospital told Breakfast that she has mixed feelings about the proposed bill.

Wilson said that she was not convinced such a law would ever be required in New Zealand due to fairly high immunisation rates.

"Immunisation rates have improved enormously, with certainly acceleration in the past few years because of all the effort that has been put into the programme, since it became a Ministry of Health target.

"In Auckland, I think we have achieved the 95% mark for fully immunised two-year-olds, and the new target is to focus more on 'on time' immunisations," she said.

However, Wilson also said that while having everyone immunised is a "good idea" she had "mixed feelings about any coercion".

"Part of me thinks yes, go for it, and part of me thinks, no, New Zealand prides itself on people being able to make choices. Ideally the science and the medical evidence would speak for itself, without having to introduce legislation about it," she said.

Either way, Wilson said that parents still need to be educated about the importance of immunisation as a means of preventing the spread of disease.

"With some diseases, having high levels of community immunisation is very important. For example, we had a measles epidemic two years ago, and currently the whooping cough epidemic.

"They are highly infectious diseases and you can only generate what we call herd immunity, which is to try to reduce the circulation of the causative bugs in the community if you have over 95% [of the population] immunised.

"Other diseases it does not matter, like tetanus. It you are not immunised you are not immune, there's no herd immunity because it is something that comes from the soil it's not a person to person transfer," she said.

Education more productive

Similarly, Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds told Breakfast that he thinks educating parents about vaccination would be more beneficial than making a blanket decision to ban unvaccinated children.

"I think it's much more productive, particularly in New Zealand, to work with children and work with families about the benefits of immunisation to ensure they understand how childcare centres work and operate in order to keep not only their child, but other children safe and well," he said.

Reynolds added that he thinks the law is a "punitive approach" which would end up punishing the affected children.

"It really is punitive, you are punishing children for something, that frankly, you don't need to.

"The opportunity to immunise to suppress the worst effects of those sorts of things are really important but at the end of the day we have parental choice and parents will make a choice on whether their child is going to be vaccinated," he said.

Reynolds also said he rejected the idea that parents should consider natural immunisation as an alternative to vaccination, following an instance where parents were choosing to expose their children to the chicken pox virus.

"That's frankly just bizarre. You really wouldn't want to do that, you wouldn't want to run the risk.

"Individual children react to viruses in different ways, some will be sick for a week or so, brush it off and just move on. Others can get incredibly unwell and end up in hospital, why would you run that risk?" he said.