Opinion: NZ doesn't need to ban unvaccinated kids from childcare

OPINION: New Zealand doesn't need to ban unvaccinated kids from childcare - we take a much more mature approach to immunisation, and it's working.

By being systematic, setting national targets and communicating effectively to healthcare providers and parents, we have seen a dramatic improvement in immunisation coverage over the last 25 years.

In 1991, New Zealand had 56 percent of its children fully immunised by the age of two - much lower for Maori and Pacific kids. In 1995/6 we had gotten to 72 percent for all two-year-olds. Now, in 2017, we are just under 95 percent fully immunised with very little difference between different ethnic groups.

So why go down the track of a mandatory ban? I don't believe New Zealand needs that.

We are already obtaining and maintaining high immunisation coverage without draconian rules. Having people understand why vaccination is important is a much more sustainable model.

What we've shown is that we can take people with us - if you can communicate effectively to the community that vaccinations make a difference, you get good coverage.

NZ does have steps in place to deal with disease outbreaks. Early childcare centres must ask parents about their child's immunisation status when they enrol, and if there is an outbreak the local public health authority has the legislative authority to stop children from attending preschools and schools.

That legislation is used; we've seen it with measles outbreaks.

We still don't have perfect coverage - there are children at risk from other children, and we should never miss the opportunity to talk about that. This isn't about individual responsibility - the public needs to know we are relying on vaccinated people for the overall health of the population.

So long as most of the country understands that, we can actually carry a small percentage of unvaccinated people.

Measles is one disease where we could do better – we're close to the 95 percent target immunisation rate, but not close enough.

But the only reason I can imagine needing an all-out ban is if we were exposing children to unacceptable risk - and at the moment, we're not.

Dr Nikki Turner is the director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre at the University of Auckland and an advisor to the World Health Organisation.

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