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