Families harassed over vaccinations

Families are being "harassed" by health officials to vaccinate their children, despite new research showing we are generally a nation of vaccinators anyway.

A Tongan family in South Auckland said they were rung every three hours by an outreach immunisation service after initially deciding not to vaccinate their child. After days of what they call harassment, they gave in and got their child vaccinated despite concerns about it.

This comes as the Australian medical community takes a hard line on unvaccinated children, calling for them to stay away from school.

The "2013 Immunisation Health Report" - commissioned by Pfizer in partnership with the Meningitis Foundation - surveyed 1500 parents and found 96 per cent had vaccinated their children, with 87 per cent completing the treatment.

However, 17 per cent had not immunised their children on time, with some waiting months beyond the recommended date to get their child's immunisations.

The Ministry of Health has a target of 85 per cent of children under 8 months to be immunised by July. That target will increase to 90 per cent in July 2014 and 95 per cent by December 2014.

Christchurch GP Dr Api Talemaitoga contributed to the immunisation report and told the Sunday Star-Times that "harassing" families was not acceptable behaviour for a health professional.

"That's really unfortunate and sad. I think health professionals should act in a professional manner.

"That crosses the line and I feel sorry for the family. People for whatever reason make a decision. I am really keen that people make a decision based on good advice and good information.

"As health professionals we should be really proactively supporting immunisation.

"I'd hate for parents to make a decision based on misinformation but that is different from forcing them."

Talemaitoga said in the past doctors would send a letter to patients reminding them of the vaccination schedule. "I remember 10 to 15 years ago, [health authorities asked] why do Maori or Pacific [parents] not turn up or why are they late? The recall letter turns up in the form of a letter, Mum is at the factory, Dad is working somewhere else, and Grandma cannot read English, thinks it's a bill and chucks it into the bin. So they never even get the recall that it is time for the next jabs."

Parents can now get a text reminder. The ministry's newborn enrolment programme, started last year, means that when a child is born, midwives and hospital staff notify the GP and get the doctor's practice to send a note or a text reminding the family about vaccinations.

But Talemaitoga said health professionals still had to respect people's choices.

"In my practice in Christchurch we have a few parents who have decided not to immunise, and you treat it on a case-by-case basis.

" It doesn't mean that they have got leprosy and you don't ever talk to them again. But I certainly would have it on my notes as an alert so if the child is unwell then I am reminded that they are not immunised."

New Zealand Medical Association chairman Dr Paul Ockelford said last week that he would not be seeking to punish children who were not immunised, for example by banning them from school, for the decisions of their parents.

Parents who declined vaccines put themselves and their children at risk and the solution was to educate and persuade them of the value of vaccinations, Ockelford said.

Sunday Star Times