Earlier this year more than 20 people contracted measles in an outbreak traced to the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, an area where vaccination rates have fallen below the recommended 95 per cent.
Among those infected were two primary school students, leading their school’s administrators to keep home dozens of students without proper immunisations.
Teachers who couldn’t prove their immunity were also told not to come into work.
Given the current, very necessary push to ensure children are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases, we wondered, what about their teachers?
Do teachers need to be immunised? If not, why not?
A NSW Health reminder for parents to “save the date” and vaccinate:
As it turns out, there’s no national or state-level rules mandating teachers or childcare workers be immunised.
There are, however, recommendations.
A spokesperson from the New South Wales Department of Education confirmed the state “does not have vaccination requirements for teachers”.
Nor are their such requirements in Victoria.
In Western Australia, “vaccinations are strongly recommended but not mandatory” and seasonal vaccines, such as for influenza are subsidised, according to a spokesperson from their Department of Education.
In South Australia there are no specific requirements either, but a number of vaccines are “actively promoted” and available to teachers free of charge “based on risk assessment”.
“The department’s infection control procedures are regularly reviewed to ensure that risks are properly managed,” a spokesperson said.
This seemed odd to us, so we asked an immunisation specialist, why not?
“We don’t have any clear evidence showing that immunising teachers protects their students but we do have reasonable evidence to show that teachers are at risk themselves of increased exposure to vaccine-preventable disease,” Professor Jim Buttery, who is Head of Infection and Immunity at Monash Children’s Hospital said.
He recommended teachers be immunised, but in the interests of their own health rather than that of their students.
The most common risks for teachers are influenza and pertussis, better known as whooping cough, but other important ones include measles, rubella, mumps and chicken pox, he said.
“Unless the teacher had the disease themselves, they don’t pose any risk.”
Pr Buttery also noted, anyone working in a field where they had regular contact with children should be vaccinated against hepatitis B.