Chickenpox outbreak at Brunswick North West Primary School prompts vaccination push.

Health authorities have urged parents to vaccinate their children after up to a quarter of students at a primary school in Melbourne’s north were infected with chickenpox.

Of the 320 students who attend Brunswick North West Primary School, about 80 have been absent in recent days.

Acting Victorian chief health officer Professor Michael Ackland said while the exact number of students who had chickenpox was not known, it was understood to be the majority.

Students in Victoria do not have to be immunised to attend government schools, but parents must inform the school of the child’s immunisation status.

Immunisation against chickenpox is included in the combination measles, mumps, rubella and varicella vaccine which is given to children at 18 months.

About chickenpox:

Highly contagious viral disease, more common in winter and early spring
Symptoms include itchiness, low-grade fever, blistering skin rash, malaise
Children should not go to school until last blister has dried
Children and adults can be immunised
Most cases are mild and get better without medical treatment
The City of Moreland, the municipality which takes in the school, had a 94 per cent vaccination rate and about 75 per cent of students had provided vaccination certificates.

In a newsletter sent to parents on December 4, principal Trevor Bowen said the school welcomed students who were not immunised.

“Prospective students will not be prevented from enrolling in primary school if they have not been immunised,” he said.

“We expect all community members to act respectfully and with tolerance when interacting with other parents and carers who may have a differing opinion to their own.

“This includes an opposing understanding about child immunisation.

“I ask all community members to interact respectfully at all times and with a sense of tolerance and acceptance of diversity.”


Health Minister Jill Hennessy said she was always concerned when parents decided not vaccinate their children.

Earlier this year the Victorian Government introduced a no jab, no play policy for early child services in the state, which begins next year, but it does not apply to schools.

She cited a recent increase in whooping cough cases as an example of the importance of vaccination.

Ms Hennessy said it was not just about protecting your own child, but other vulnerable members of the community.

Having vaccination ‘safer, protects vulnerable’

Associate Professor Jodie McVernon, an expert in infectious diseases from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, told 774 ABC Melbourne the trend away from immunisation was “a national concern”.

“Clearly there’s greater opportunity for diseases to spread in areas where immunisation falls below what we call the critical protective threshold,” she said.

“That varies for different diseases but generally where immunisation is less than about 95 per cent coverage, there’s greater chance for infection to spread.

“We know already there are some areas where immunisation rates are lower and areas exist where people with particular views on immunisation live,” she said.


“It’s a national concern that we’re trying to address by supporting immunisation and supporting parents in their decision-making.”

Professor Ackland said it was not uncommon for clusters of chickenpox to break out in primary schools, and the safest way to avoid the disease was to get vaccinated.

“It’s not surprising that 80-odd students would get chickenpox in a situation like this,” he said.

“The vaccine is not perfect, but in excess of 80 per cent of those who get vaccinated will get protected against chickenpox.”

Associate Professor McVernon said vaccinations were important in helping prevent outbreaks and protect vulnerable members of the population.

“We can’t always protect. This is why we rely on the community to immunise as broadly as possible,” she said.

“Vaccines don’t protect us perfectly and for some infectious diseases, vaccines don’t protect as well or as long as having had the infection itself.

“Obviously having the vaccine itself is safer, which is why we recommend them.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.