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Health Ministers mull vaccination rules for schools

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The nation’s Health Ministers have rejected suggestions that children who are not fully vaccinated should be banned from attending school.

But, in an acknowledgement of mounting community concern about the threat posed by areas of low vaccination coverage, the Ministers have agreed to work on the development of nationally-consistent immunisation requirements.

As the Ministers met in Hobart on 8 November to discuss the National Immunisation Strategy, evidence emerged that a community health group funded by the NSW Government encouraged parents to seek advice from an anti-vaccination lobby group.

A Medical Observer report said the carers support service Working Carers Gateway provided a link to the Australian Vaccination Network, an anti-vaccination campaign group, on its website.

The link was provided as part of advice to parents on new requirements that proof of vaccination be provided in order to have children enrolled in child care.

In its advice to carers, the website said its information might be of interest to “working carers who… have chosen not to vaccinate their child for health contra-indication reasons”.

According to the Medical Observer, the Gateway also advised that the AVN website was “one of the few sites where you can find information about the ingredients in vaccines and their potential harmful effects,” and provided a link to the AVN website.

This reference to the AVN has since been removed from the Gateway website, which carries the NSW Department of Family and Community Services logo.

Sensitivity over immunisation rates has been heightened by warnings parts of the nation are vulnerable to sustained outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and other serious diseases because of low vaccination rates.

An Australian Council of Australian Governments report released last month found infant vaccination rates in parts of NSW have declined from already low levels, and in Queensland just 82.5 per cent of four-year-olds are fully vaccinated.

Earlier this year, the National Health Performance Authority reported that almost 77,000 children nationwide were not fully immunised in 2011-12.

At their meeting earlier this month, the Federal, State and Territory Health Ministers “noted” the National Immunisation Strategy, which has as its priorities the operation of a secure vaccine supply, improved vaccine safety monitoring, strengthened evaluation of the National Immunisation Program and the provision of an adequate immunisation workforce.

While rejecting a national ban on school entry for children who are not fully vaccinated, the Ministers agreed to “a stocktake and review” of school entry immunisation requirements from across the country “to identify suitable models of use at a national level”.

Adrian Rollins