Pre-schools face uncertain future as ‘no jab, no play’ vaccination rules threaten enrolments
Early childhood educators in one of Australia’s anti-vaccination hotspots are warning a “no jab, no play” policy could have serious unintended consequences.
Since January, unvaccinated children have been banned from enrolling in pre-schools in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, and the policy will start having a practical effect from next year.
Some pre-schools in northern NSW, which has one of Australia’s lowest vaccination rates, have told 7.30 their enrolments are down.
“What are we doing with the kids that are missing out?” Pauline Hurcombe, director of the Mount Warning Community Pre-School at Uki, said.
“Where’s the policy for them?”
Enrolments down, families turned away
About half the children currently at the Mount Warning pre-school are unvaccinated and, although they can stay at the centre, their younger brothers and sisters will miss out.
Ms Hurcombe said the pre-school would begin to notice a big difference from 2020.
“We plan to [continue], but we’ll see, it’s hard to tell,” she said.
The Gumnut Community Pre-School at nearby Burringbar said it had turned away eight families wanting to enrol their children for 2019.
“I have to look at the child and say ‘you can’t come’, and that’s a really difficult thing to do,” the pre-school’s director Lina Beerling said.
“I think it stinks, I think it’s appalling.”
Simon Roberts of the Mullumbimby Community Pre-school says unvaccinated children will miss out on what pre-school has to offer. (ABC News: Nic Coleman)
Every early childhood educator 7.30 spoke to supported childhood vaccinations, but many are worried about the longer-term impacts the “no jab, no play” policy will have on children who miss out on pre-school.
“Pre-schools have gone from the day of glorified babysitters,” Simon Roberts from Mullumbimby Community Pre-School said.
“We’re an education facility where we’re helping to identify and support all children, children at risk of harm and also [helping] children to excel.”
‘I have set opinions … that’s not going to change’
Katharina Gorka’s son Manu (l) won’t be able to go to pre-school but his older sister Maya (r) will be able to stay on, despite both not being vaccinated. (ABC News: Nic Coleman)
All the pre-schools 7.30 spoke to agreed the “no jab, no play” policy had encouraged some parents to vaccinate their children, but said most anti-vaxxers would not budge.
Katharina Gorka was able to get her four-year-old daughter Maya into the Mount Warning Community Pre-School, but her two-year-old son Manu will miss out.
“I don’t think it’s fair, to be honest, it makes me feel like we’re a bit secluded from society,” she told 7.30.
“I have a set opinion on vaccinations and that’s not going to change.”
Toni McCaffery’s daughter Dana died of whooping cough when she was just 4 weeks old. (ABC News: Nic Coleman)
Toni McCaffery has experienced the tragedy of dangerous childhood diseases, losing her four-week-old daughter Dana to whooping cough at Lismore Hospital in 2009.
She is now part of a group that helps promote informed debate about immunisation and welcomes the hard line on anti-vaxxers.
“I know it sounds like tough love, however these diseases do and can kill,” she said.
“This policy is about making pre-school and pre-schoolers safer.”
Risk vs Benefit
Dr Margie Danchin supports vaccination but warns there could be unintended consequences of the “no jab, no play” policy. (Supplied: Murdoch Research Institute)
Some in the medical profession are warning that not enough is known about potential risks in the policy.
Immunologist paediatrician Margie Danchin of the Murdoch Research Institute believes health should be a priority.
But she also acknowledges more research needs to be done into the effects of the “no jab, no play” policy.
“I’m a very strong advocate for vaccination both as an immunologist paediatrician and a mum of four kids, but it’s really important for us to be aware of the potential risks and benefits,” she said.
“I think we need to carefully look at some of the unintended consequences of the policy.
“[We need to] do an evaluation around financial impacts on some families and educational impacts on children in those critical few years before they start school.”