Vaccines stimulate the body’s defence mechanism against infection. This process is known as immunisation, which is the term often used when describing the process of a child receiving a vaccine, to reduce their risk acquiring a communicable disease. The scientific evidence is clear that immunisations are safe and save lives.
Childhood immunisations that are part of the immunisation schedule for Victoria as determined by the Department of Health are considered routine medical care (confirmed in section 3 of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 under the definition of ‘major long-term issue’). Child protection practitioners should encourage parents to immunise their child and provide support where required.
Further information on immunisations is located on the Better Health Channel.
Benefits of vaccinations
There are a number of benefits associated with vaccinations. Specifically:
- Vaccinations are one of the most effective mechanisms of protecting children from preventable diseases.
- Vaccinations are highly effective at reducing the incidence of infectious diseases and associated health complications.
- Vaccinations provide lifesaving protection against diseases such as measles and tetanus.
- Vaccinations can enable children to enrol and access childcare and education.
- Vaccinations are free, as part of routine medical care from birth until 70 years of age and beyond, from the National Immunisation Program.
- Vaccines have made some diseases in Australia extremely rare.
- Immunisation programs around the work are estimated to have prevented approximately 2.5 million deaths each year.
- Immunisations provide both short and long term health benefits.
There are some in the community who are not immunised. They may benefit from the ‘herd immunity’ effect. This occurs when the majority of the community have been vaccinated, thereby helping to protect those who have not. However, this is a significant risk and therefore it is strongly recommended all children are vaccinated, which is the only method to achieve complete protection.
There is no evidence that homeopathic vaccines or practices can provide immunity against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Child protection response
Child protection practitioners are not health experts and are expected, and required, to consult with health professionals, when considering the health needs of a child protection client, including immunisation.
When a child is living at home and full parental responsibility remains with the child’s parent(s), child protection practitioners should support parents to immunise their child, or participate in an immunisation catch up schedule, as required.
If a child is in out-of-home care, child protection practitioners should seek to establish if a child is up to date with their immunisations as part of the health assessment completed within the first 30 days of a child entering out-of-home care, and record this information on CRIS. If a child is behind with their immunisations arrange for these to be completed by means of a catch-up schedule via a GP or immunisation clinic and record this on CRIS.
If any concern is raised by a parent about the intention to have their child immunised, encourage them to seek medical advice about immunisations from their GP. If a parent continues to object, practitioners should encourage the parent to seek legal advice and record this on CRIS. Immunisation, as recommended by a medical practitioner, is considered routine medical care and legally, child protection can arrange for a child in care to be immunised.
Young people can consent to or refuse their own immunisation if a medical practitioner considers they are capable of making this decision. This is known as the ‘mature minor’ or ‘Gillick principle’.
Under section 175A of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 a carer can be authorised to take a child to be immunised unless there is a medical exemption issued by a GP. This is the only recognised exemption for immunisations.
The Better Health Channel is an excellent resource and child protection practitioners are encouraged to access this site for further information regarding health related needs for child protection clients, and for further information on immunisations.