Public health experts welcome Malcolm Turnbull's tough vaccines push

I was wrong: Hanson

Days after her comments about vaccinations and their link to autism caused outrage, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson now says she got it wrong. Courtesy Seven Network.

Public health experts have welcomed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's renewed vaccinations push, which could see unvaccinated children barred from childcare and preschool facilities across Australia.

While NSW, Victoria and Queensland already have restrictions in place, all other states and territories allow children to be enrolled in facilities when they are not immunised. Mr Turnbull has called for the next meeting of federal and state governments to adopt a nationally consistent approach. 

Dr Stephen Duckett, health program director at the Grattan Institute and former head of the Department of Health, said the existing state measures already covered a large majority of the population and "extending it to the other states and territories is a good thing".

The Grattan Institute's Dr Stephen Duckett.
The Grattan Institute's Dr Stephen Duckett. Photo: Jeremy Piper

"It has proved to be something that has widespread community acceptance," he told Fairfax Media.

Michael Gannon, president of the Australian Medical Association, said parents sending their kids to childcare had a responsibility to protect the community.

"Firstly, the nature of very small children is that they are at much higher risk of catching infections. Because they haven't developed the basic skills of hygiene and safely coughing and sneezing. Secondly, it comes to that community responsibility on vaccinations," he said.

"If you, as a parent, expect the community to support you by either welfare payments or access to care, then you need to do your bit to contribute to that community by protecting other children."

However, Dr Gannon said there was an important distinction between childcare and primary education.

"I would not advocate for unvaccinated kids being denied access to primary school ... We believe that unvaccinated children are already at a disadvantage. We would hate to compound that disadvantage by depriving them of a formal education," he said.

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The ban would allow for exemptions on medical grounds but not personal objections to vaccines. The Prime Minister has also proposed the publication of childcare centres' and preschools' immunisation rates, a transparency measure to allow parents "to know their children are safe when they drop them off".

The current national vaccination rate is about 93 per cent and the government wants to push it to 95 per cent or higher.

An additional 200,000 children have been immunised since the government's "No jab, no pay" measure – denying welfare payments to families with unvaccinated children – came into effect at the start of 2016.

Parents have a responsibility to the community: president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Michael Gannon.
Parents have a responsibility to the community: president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Michael Gannon. Photo: Edwina Pickles

"This has got to be a concerted national effort by all governments to ensure that all of our children are vaccinated," Mr Turnbull said on Sunday, calling for toughened enforcement. "No jab, no pay, no play. And the result of that is a healthier, safer Australia."

The push has attracted tentative support from Labor, with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backing a national approach.

"I applaud Mr Turnbull standing up along with Labor against the anti-vaccination brigade. I have written to Mr Turnbull last week and said one thing the federal government can do, without just putting all the problems back on the states, is have a national education campaign," Mr Shorten said. 

Dr Duckett said such a campaign would be a worthwhile addition to other measures.

"In all of these public health areas, no one policy is ever the complete answer. You need the media campaigns, you need the legislation, you need the financial incentives, you need doctors encouraging it." 

Dr Gannon said education on vaccines, to combat myths about their dangers, needed to be improved.

One Nation's new WA senator Peter Georgiou is recovering in hospital after he contracted measles during a recent visit to Bali. 

His diagnosis comes just days after One Nation leader Pauline Hanson was roundly criticised for her remarks questioning vaccines' safety

The irony of the situation was not lost on Senator Hanson. 

"Isn't it ironic," she wrote on Facebook, "our new Western Australian senator has caught measles in Bali after I caught foot in mouth earlier this week." 

It is understood Mr Georgiou was vaccinated against measles as a child. 

with Kieran Gair