Chickenpox outbreak hits 80 children at Melbourne primary school

A chickenpox outbreak that struck down 80 students at a Melbourne primary school has again put community vaccination rates in the spotlight.

Brunswick North West Primary School has had a quarter of its students off sick with the virus in the past fortnight. According to a recent school newsletter, the school in Melbourne’s inner north has a 73.2 per cent immunisation rate, compared to a 92 per cent immunisation rate in the local area.

In the newsletter, principal Trevor Bowen says the immunisation rate in Victoria is 90.4 per cent.

“There is a variety of beliefs concerning immunising children. Some people believe it is their right to choose not to vaccinate their child, and that the vaccination program is detrimental to the health of their child. Others believe that immunisation is one of the best ways to protect their children and safeguard the health of others and future generations,” Mr Bowen says in the newsletter.

The Department of Health says chickenpox is highly contagious, and is spread through the air via coughing, sneezing or contact with infected people. About 90 per cent of unvaccinated people who have not previously had chickenpox will become infected when they come into contact with the virus.

Students are not excluded from school on the basis that they are not immunised, the Herald Sun reports.

Mr Bowen, on advice from the Department of Health, says “due to immunisation levels at our school, caution should be exercised to limit exposure” for babies, infants, the elderly, anyone with an illness that causes a depleted immune system and children who are part or unimmunised.

Victoria’s acting chief health officer Prof Michael Ackland tells the ABC that clusters of chickenpox in schools occur occasionally.

“From time to time we get clusters of chickenpox in schools. One of the most important things that we can do is have our children vaccinated,” he says.

The varicella vaccine is free under the National Immunisation Program when children are 18 months old. A booster shot is recommended when children reach Year 7.

Infectious disease expert, Associate Professor Jodie McVernon, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, told ABC radio the trend away from immunisation was “a national concern”.

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

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

“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.”

(via Herald Sun)

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