Make meningococcal vaccination compulsory, says Hamilton doctor

Meningococcal-B vaccinations should be compulsory and children who have not been immunised should be barred from school, a Hamilton doctor says.

Tony Haycock first called for a compulsory vaccination programme last year, when he was chairman of Waikato District Health Board's community and public health committee.

He is no longer a member of the board but is continuing to push for compulsory vaccination.

New Zealand has one of the world's highest rates of meningococcal-B and the Health Ministry has launched a nationwide programme aiming to vaccinate 90 per cent of people under 20.

The school-based immunisation programme began in Waikato this week.

Dr Haycock said that despite the campaign, some people would still choose not to have the vaccination and that put others at risk.

"The Ministry of Health has spent over $200 million on the campaign," he said. "I don't think the population is going to take full advantage of it.

"We are still a very PC (politically correct) society and we allow people to opt off.

We won't let people smoke in public due to the risk of second-hand smoke but we let people choose not to be immunised at the risk of spreading disease."

He said communities benefited when vaccinations were compulsory.

In the United States and Singapore, where children had to have immunisation against diseases such as measles, diphtheria and hepatitis B, children had to show proof of their immunisation before they could attend school.

"It makes sense to have school children immunised," Dr Haycock said.

"They are in an environment where they are most at risk of disease through continuous contact."

His views are not supported by other health practitioners. Dr Nikki Turner, director of the Immunisation Advisory Centre at Auckland University, said there was no point in barring children from school if they had not been vaccinated.

The meningococcal-B vaccine protected the person who had been vaccinated but did not appear to stop them carrying the bug and passing it on to someone else.

Immunisation Awareness Society spokeswoman Sue Claridge, from Auckland, said it was not appropriate to cite the US in success stories. Measles were rife in that country despite compulsory immunisation.

"There are three things you need to consider before you opt for vaccination," she said. "Is it necessary, is it effective and is it safe?"

Australia and Britain were debating the issue of compulsory immunisation.

When the meningococcal-B immunisation programme was launched in New Zealand last year, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Annette King said there were no plans to make vaccination compulsory.

- NZPA

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