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School vaccination law not yet feasible: Ministry

The Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) has conceded a new law requiring children to be fully vaccinated before enrolling in school is currently unworkable, as it expands the range of its routine immunisation programme. 

The Deputy Director of Public Health, Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen, made the comments on the enrollment requirements at a seminar on Thursday while announcing an overhaul of the Ministry's vaccination programme. 

Tagaloa said that a compromise had been reached, which would ensure that children have proof of measles immunisation before school enrollment, while other requirements in the legislation could be met after the new school year begins.

“At this stage we cannot really fulfill all the requirements as required by the new Act to have every child fully immunised when they enter school," Tagaloa said. 

The Infants Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2019 was passed into law last month and made the provision of a comprehensive vaccination record a mandatory requirement for school enrollment. Principals found to have enrolled children without complete vaccination records would face fines of up to $10,000.

“In order for a child to have all its required immunisation to be updated it takes up to seven months to catch up [on] all the required immunisation[s]," he said. 

“The immunisation is never complete, there are vaccines that are given at certain ages and so we are working on trying to catch up with that.”

Tagaloa said that after discussions with the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.), they have proposed to allow the enrollment of children who have proof that they have received the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine as a stopgap measure, while they catch up on outstanding injections.

Tagaloa also confirmed on Thursday the Ministry will this year expand the scope of its routine vaccination programmes to include immunisations for typhoid, pneumococcal, rotavirus and human papillomavirus.

“A large proportion of children have incomplete vaccination,” he said.

Tagaloa said that different age groups require different schedules of immunisation. 

“We cannot give a definite date on when the vaccines will be introduced, maybe in two or three months’ time for the typhoid vaccine," he said.

“The vaccines are significant because in 2019 around two or three people passed away from typhoid and two cases were children.”

The enrollment requirement has proven controversial among parents, who complained of delays in receiving certified copies of their children's vaccine records, and were also hit with a $40 tala fee that was immediately retracted by the Ministry who said it was mistakenly imposed by staff. 

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