Conscientious objector loophole for unvaccinated kids closed for childcare

Herd immunity: Boombalee Kidz supervisor Sarah Larkin welcomed a number of new enrolments this week - as strict new rules around vaccination requirements for childcare centres came into effect across NSW. Picture: Sylvia Liber
Herd immunity: Boombalee Kidz supervisor Sarah Larkin welcomed a number of new enrolments this week - as strict new rules around vaccination requirements for childcare centres came into effect across NSW. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Wollongong childcare centre manager Kathy Patrick has welcomed a new law designed to protect her young charges from preventable – and potentially deadly – disease.

The law, which came into effect on January 1, means that children who are unvaccinated due to their parents’ conscientious objection will no longer be able to be enrolled in a childcare facility in NSW.

Previously, registering as a conscientious objector was a valid exemption to the state’s childcare vaccination requirements.

Ms Patrick, manager of Boombalee Kidz, said the centre’s families and staff had reacted positively to the amendment to the Public Health Act.

‘’I’m all on the side of vaccination – it’s the reason we don’t see kids getting polio any more,’’ she said.

‘’And while enforcing this law may seem a bit draconian – with parents seemingly having a decision concerning their child taken out of their hands – in the long run it’s of benefit to all children.

‘’In the same way laws were introduced to make everyone wear a seat belt for their safety, this measure will also ensure health and safety.’’

According to NSW Health, the vast majority of children will be unaffected by the change as more than 93 per cent of children in the state are fully vaccinated at one, and then five years of age.

That figure is even higher within the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, with 95.4 per cent of children vaccinated at 12 months of age and 96 per cent at five years.

Meantime parent conscientious objection is not widespread in NSW – affecting only around 1.15 per cent of children aged 0 to 7 when last measured in December 2015.

Ms Patrick said: ‘’I’ve been working in childcare for 20 years and only had a handful of parents who were conscientious objectors.

‘’Most of the time when kids’ vaccinations aren’t up to date it’s because parents have been too busy or it’s simply slipped their minds, or because their child was too sick to get vaccinated when it was due.’’

Those children on a recognised catch-up schedule – and those who cannot be fully vaccinated due to a medical condition – will still be able to be enrolled in childcare with the appropriate medical forms.

The majority of those who commented on a Mercury Facebook post on the issue said it was ‘’about time’’ the conscientious objector loophole was closed.

‘’No conscientious objection to science. A child’s health does not depend on another parent’s delusions. You live in society. You accept society’s rules,’’ wrote Niall Connolly.

While some talked of adverse reactions to vaccines, Kirrie Shearer commented: ‘’Vaccines aren’t immunity, and there is a chance of having a reaction, but the benefits far outweigh the risks.’’

Alan Gordon was another who agreed with the change. ‘’There is no room for putting children at risk of acquiring communicable disease.’’

Directors of childcare centres who fail to comply and people who forge or falsify vaccination certificates will be committing an offence under the amended law and face fines of up to $5500.

The new requirements do not change other existing provisions.

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