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Australia wants to ban unvaccinated children from preschool – should they?

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No jab, no play. So says the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who has announced a proposal to bar unvaccinated children from attending preschools and daycare centres.

Currently, 93 per cent of Australian children receive the standard childhood vaccinations, including those for measles, mumps and rubella, but the government wants to lift this to 95 per cent. This is the level required to stop the spread of infectious disease and to protect children who are too young to be immunised or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Federal childcare subsidies have been unavailable to the families of unvaccinated children since January 2016, and a version of the new “no jab, no play” policy is already in place in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Other states and territories only exclude unvaccinated children from preschools during infectious disease outbreaks.

The proposed policy is based on Victoria’s model, which is the strictest. It requires all children attending childcare to be fully immunised, unless they have a medical exemption, such as a vaccine allergy.

Kids miss out

Nesha Hutchinson from the Australian Childcare Alliance – an advocacy group for childhood education – says that a nationwide “no jab, no play” policy would be likely to raise immunisation rates.

However, she is concerned that children of parents who object to vaccination would miss out on quality early childhood education. The policy may also affect children from disadvantaged families, who are less likely to be immunised, and risk becoming further marginalised if they lose access to education.

Punitive measures may also galvanise the anti-vaccination movement, warns Julie Leask at the University of Sydney. “People without any previous interest in vaccination may defend anti-vaccination activists and join their cause because they are concerned about the threat to civil liberties,” she says.

Leask prefers the New South Wales model, which makes it procedurally complex but not impossible to send unvaccinated kids to childcare, and also ensures that children’s immunisation records are checked. This policy has increased child immunisation rates by the same amount as the harsher approach in Victoria, she says. Leask also believes that campaigns and reminders are good ways to improve vaccination rates without inciting opposition.

 

By Alice Klein

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