Influenza epidemic: schools fear head-to-head with NSW government

Vaccination centres say only a few that were due to be opened on Wednesday evening have opened

Vaccination centres for young children in NSW have now been delayed until Friday as people prepare for a head-to-head showdown with the state’s public health authorities on how much flu vaccine to be put in school supplies.

Earlier this week the Department of Health advised schools in a metropolitan area it wanted to vaccinate students in new and returning Year 6 students in an effort to maintain healthy immunity among the young.

The schools sent formal letters home to parents containing that advice, sparking criticism that the policy was premature as it was not yet clear how many families would be affected.

New South Wales public health advice: should schools take the state’s new influenza advice? Read more

The public health department said it decided to intervene and vaccinate students in new and returning students “to maintain healthy immunity in the next generation of children”, giving schools two weeks to increase their vaccinations.

But the Department of Health told Fairfax Media there was only one centre planning to open on Wednesday evening, when the head-to-head battle between its advice and the NSW education department was due to begin.

And on Saturday afternoon it said “relatively few” centres in the metropolitan area would open for the remainder of the week.

“Unfortunately we are only expecting limited immunisation sites to open on Tuesday and most centres will open around midday tomorrow,” a spokeswoman said.

It is expected this will affect about a quarter of the region’s immunisation centres.

For the first time in 10 years, the head-to-head advice between public health officials and the education department is a closely watched event.

The department says it “advises” only about 60% of schools do vaccination programs, with the vast majority being able to get flu shots at pharmacies. It says more than 80% of schools also have temperature controlled nurses on site to monitor students in general health.

“While the vast majority of students receive their immunisations at school, when they do not, unvaccinated people can be very contagious and spread flu to children who do not have immunity from previous seasons,” the department said in its education flu risk alert.

While more than 70% of children aged two to 12 receive flu vaccinations, it says there is a “high risk” of adults becoming infected, particularly those aged 65 and over, those who work in the health care sector, and pregnant women.

On Sunday, the chief medical officer of NSW, Kerry Chant, told the ABC’s Insiders it was a “genuine operational problem” and it was for schools to decide whether to administer flu vaccines.

“If you have got lots of people in a room of vaccine and people who are immunised and are contagious you are trying to herd them all together,” she said.

“So that’s how you build immunity.”

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