About 25 percent of all students at the Brunswick North West Primary school in Melbourne, Australia have contracted chickenpox in the last three weeks. The school champions tolerance among parents who don't want to immunize their children through vaccination.
An official statement by the Victoria Department of Health says the number of students who contracted chickenpox cannot be accurately identified because many students are absent for other reasons, too. The Victoria Health Department spokesperson said:
"There are no firm figures on the number of students who have contracted the illness since then, but we've been advised that over the period there has been an absentee rate of about 25 percent on any given day," The Age says.
The UK Daily Mail reports that about 80 out of 320 students have contracted the illness since November 26th. The same source cites a 7News piece that says chickenpox started spreading from a Year 6 student.
The Brunswick North West Primary School has asked parents in the past to be tolerant of parents holding different views on vaccination and those who opt not to immunize their children through vaccination. Slate cites a May newsletter sent to parents by the school's principal, Trevor Bowen, who asks parents to be tolerant with anti-vaccination parents:
"We expect all community members to act respectfully and with tolerance when interacting with other parents and carers who may have a differing opinion to their own."
He added that it is important that parents opting out of child vaccination are respected for their decision to do so:
"I ask all community members to interact respectfully at all times and with a sense of tolerance and acceptance of diversity."
At Brunswick primary, the immunization rate among students is low at 73.2 percent, whereas the rate in the state of Victoria is 90.4 percent, the May 2015 newsletter school said.
A Year 1 student who was immunized against chickenpox contracted the illness. His parent was surprised to discover that her son's school has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state of Victoria. She said:
"I think everyone should get vaccinated because it's a matter of public health and community safety," she said. "You don't just vaccinate for your kids, you have to consider the whole community."
She explained that one cannot force parents to vaccinate their children if they don't want to:
"No matter how angry you get, what are they going to do? You can't make people vaccinate their children," she said.
Parents have to submit an immunization status document to the school whether they vaccinate their children or not. As the Daily Mail notes, the chickenpox outbreak coincided with a new vaccination policy going into effect January 1.
The No Jab, No Play law that the government passed last November says that parents who do not immunize their children will not be eligible for childcare benefits and rebates. Under this law, every child who enrolls in early childhood education and other child care services needs to have all their vaccinations up to date.
The law, however, does not hold for primary and secondary education children.