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Northern Rivers anti-vaxer levels remain unchanged

NEW vaccination laws have failed to make a dent in the number of conscientious objectors sending their non-immunised children to Northern Rivers childcare centres.

But the laws have prompted parents who "forgot" to keep their kids' shots up to date to rectify the situation.

A study of 10 undisclosed preschools in the Northern Rivers has examined the effects of new fines against childcare operators who fail to keep vaccination records up to date.

Under the new rules, centres must obtain forms from every parent declaring their child's vaccination as being up to date; on a catch-up schedule; not done for medical reasons or pronouncing the parents conscientious objectors.

Anti-vaxers' kids can still attend childcare, but could be sent home for as long as three weeks during the incubation period of measles, whooping cough and other contagious disease outbreaks.

North Coast Public Health Unit immunisation co-ordinator Marianne Trent said preschools faced steep penalties if they failed to obtain the information from every child under their care.

"Previously, they were obliged to ask parents for the immunisation status of their children but it wasn't particularly well recorded," she said.

"The study found that parents who were 'always going to get their child vaccinated, but had forgotten' were now getting up to date.

"But it didn't make a difference to conscientious objectors at all."

The Northern Rivers has some of the nation's lowest vaccination rates.

Compared to the national average of 91.5%, only 66.7% of five-year-olds in Broken Heads and 70.2% in the Brunswick Heads postcode were fully immunised in March 2014.

The study stated more than 75,000 children across Australia were incompletely immunised, making them 22.2 times more likely to contract measles and 5.9 times more likely to catch whooping cough.

Ms Trent doubted further new Federal Government rules making conscientious objectors ineligible for childcare benefits and rebates would have affected levels.

"It's too early to see what the 'no jab, no pay' legislation is doing to the figures," she said.

"But anecdotally, a lot of children who haven't been fully vaccinated have now caught up."

Centres included in the study stated no-jab parents' fears had been fanned by misinformed media reports that unvaccinated children would be unable to attend childcare.

"We can now make a decision about whether we have immunised or unimmunised children ... we could choose to be a 100% immunised centre," one childcare centre operator mistakenly believed.

No other operators held the same false idea, but some spoke of parents holding the misperception.

"Some parents will come in and say, I thought everyone had to be immunised," an interviewee responded.

Ms Trent said the results were encouraging, even if anti-vaxer levels had remained stagnant.

"Talking to the directors of the centres... it is much better than it used to be," she said.

"But we still have pockets with lower rates.

"We need to get children vaccinated, but we also need to get pregnant women vaccinated in their third trimester, because we do have whooping cough going around."

Medical students undergoing training in the Northern Rivers organised and carried the project out. -ARM NEWSDESK