PARENTS who refuse to vaccinate their children will no longer be allowed to enrol them in child care, with the “conscientious objector” option set to be scrapped from January 2018.
But Hunter parents are unlikely to have much to worry about, given the region has some of the best vaccination rates in Australia.
Minister for Health Brad Hazzard said the new rules, passed through NSW Parliament on Wednesday, would reduce the risk of children contracting potentially deadly diseases such as whooping cough and meningococcal.
“The NSW Government and the majority of the NSW community have achieved outstanding vaccination rates but there’s no room for complacency,” Mr Hazzard said.
“We have spent more than any other State Government to protect our community through vaccination because the overwhelming scientific evidence is that vaccination is safe and highly effective in preventing disease.
“However, all it takes is one unvaccinated child and dozens of others could be put at risk of serious illness – so we are being very clear that choices of conscientious objectors, which are not evidence based, will no longer be allowed to impact other families.”
Directors of child care centres who do not comply with the strengthened requirements under the Public Health Act will face a fine of up to $5500.
As previously reported in the Newcastle Herald, the 2015-16 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare immunisation report, released in June, showed the people of the Hunter and Central Coast were some of the best “vaxxers” in the country.
Hunter New England and the Central Coast ranked third against other health networks across the country, with 95.4 per cent of children fully immunised at five years old.
The region also ranked second for Aboriginal childhood immunisation at 12 months of age.
In Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, suburbs including Wangi Wangi, Barnsley, West Wallsend and Islington had 100 per cent of its children fully immunised by the age of five, while Cooranbong had the worst rates in the area at 84.7 per cent.
The national average was 92.9 per cent.
In a statement, NSW Health said it would assist the child care sector to understand and implement the new requirements – which would only apply to newly enrolled children from January 1 – ahead of the start date.
Children on a recognised catch-up vaccination schedule, or those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, will still be able to be enrolled.
The new legislation would also give public health officers the power to exclude unvaccinated children from secondary schools when there is a disease outbreak. This provision previously only applied to primary schools and child care centres.
Removing this exemption will align with the Australian Government’s “No Jab, No Pay” measure, under which certain child care and family tax benefits are dependent on a child being vaccinated.