Amendments to the NSW Public Health Act 2010 that affect primary and secondary schools came into effect on 1 April 2018. The following questions and answers have been developed to help schools and parents understand these changes.
What are the changes?
From 1 April 2018, the immunisation requirements in primary schools were extended to secondary schools so that all school principals are required to:
request an immunisation certificate at enrolment
record each child’s immunisation status in a register and retain copies of approved immunisation certificates for a period of 3 years after the child has ceased to attend the school
provide a copy of a child’s immunisation certificate to another school that the child has transferred to (upon request)
notify the public health unit if an enrolled child has a vaccine preventable disease, or if they reasonably believe that an unimmunised enrolled child has come into contact with someone who has a vaccine preventable disease
exclude unimmunised children at risk of contracting a disease from attending school on the direction of a public health officer
Why have these changes been made?
These changes have been made to collect accurate information about children’s immunisation status and to help manage disease outbreaks in schools and the community. In particular, the changes are in response to:
an increase in the incidence of some vaccine preventable diseases in secondary school aged children. For example, secondary schools are a higher risk setting for measles outbreaks as there is a higher risk of older children having missed routine childhood vaccines either due to lower overall coverage when they were infants, or because they have moved to Australia after infancy and missed the opportunity to be vaccinated
the need to exclude unvaccinated students from school who have been in contact with someone with a vaccine preventable disease, regardless of whether or not there is an outbreak at the school. This is to prevent the spread of disease to other people as many diseases are infectious before any symptoms appear
parents of children can now readily access their immunisation records as the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) holds immunisation records for people of all ages
Parents should provide the school with one of the following immunisation certificates from the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR):
an AIR Immunisation History Statement for a child that is up to date, not up to date or can’t be immunised for medical reasons or has natural immunity, OR
an AIR Immunisation History Form for a child on an approved catch-up schedule
How do parents get these immunisation certificates?
The AIR automatically sends an Immunisation History Statement to parents in the mail after they complete their 4 year old immunisations and the GP/nurse sends the information to the AIR. Parents can request a copy of their child’s AIR Immunisation History Statement at any time (up to their child being 14 years of age):
using their Medicare online account through myGov
using the Medicare Express Plus App
calling the AIR General Enquiries Line on 1800 653 809
Children aged 14 years and over can request their own Immunisation History Statement from the AIR by using or creating their own Medicare online account through myGov
Which vaccines must a child have to be fully immunised?
The NSW Immunisation Schedule sets out the age-appropriate vaccines for children and the AIR Immunisation History Statement will indicate if the child is up to date with their vaccinations.
How do I tell if a child is fully immunised?
If a child has received all the vaccines required by 5 years of age, the AIR History Statement will have the following wording at the bottom of the form: "This child has received all vaccines required by 5 years of age".
What if an immunisation certificate is not provided at enrolment OR if the child is listed on the certificate as not fully immunised?
Children can still be enrolled if an immunisation certificate is not provided OR if they are listed on the immunisation certificate as not fully immunised. However, these children will be considered unimmunised and may be excluded from school if there is an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease at the school OR if they come into contact with a person with a vaccine preventable disease, even if there is no outbreak at the school.
Parents without an immunisation certificate, or whose children are not fully immunised, should be encouraged to visit a GP and complete their immunisation schedule. The Australian Government has funded free catch-up for children up to 19 years of age who have missed some or all childhood immunisations.
Do schools need to transfer the immunisation certificate when a child moves to another school, including from primary to secondary school?
Yes, a copy of the immunisation certificate must be transferred with the child's records to the new school (upon request).
How long do schools need to retain immunisation certificates?
Schools must retain immunisation certificates for three years after the child has left the school.
What if the parent provides the school with a record of vaccines given overseas?
Overseas immunisation records must not be accepted by the school directly from the parent. The parent should take their child’s immunisation records to a GP and ask them to report the vaccines to the AIR using the AIR Immunisation History Form. Overseas records must be translated into English before they can be recorded on the AIR. When the child’s AIR record has been updated with their overseas immunisations, the parent can access their child’s updated AIR Immunisation History Statement by logging on to their MyGov account or calling the AIR on 1800 653 809.
When are children excluded from school?
When there are cases of a vaccine preventable disease such as measles in a school, the local public health officer may request the principal to exclude any children who are not fully immunised against that disease during the incubation period (14 days for measles). In some circumstances, if unimmunised children can be immunised immediately they may be able to continue attending school, however if the window for this has passed the unimmunised children will need to stay at home. If no further cases arise the unimmunised children may return to school.
Under the NSW Public Health Act, if an unimmunised child comes in contact with a vaccine preventable disease outside school, they can also be asked to stay home during the incubation period to reduce the risk of starting an outbreak. Again, unimmunised children can avoid exclusion from school if they can be immunised very soon after being in contact with the disease. The timeframe and exclusion policy varies by disease - see the NSW Health Disease Control Guidelines for more details.
Who can I contact for more information?
More information about the new requirements is available by contacting your local public health unit on 1300 066 055.