Thursday, February 24, 2011

When vaccinations were compulsory

Copy of 1867 formal notice of requirement to vaccinate. Reproduced here by kind permission of Pauline Rundle and family.

In 1863, amidst rising concerns over the incidence of smallpox in the colony, the government brought in the first of a number of regulations aimed at preventing epidemics of the disease here. 

The parents of every child born in New Zealand after 1 March 1864 was obliged to take their child to a vaccinating medical practitioner within six months of the date of birth. The child was checked eight days after the vaccination -- if the vaccination was successful, then a certificate was issued.  If the parents didn't have their child vaccinated, they faced a fine of 40 shillings, just over $200 today.

It wasn't initially universally welcomed or adhered to by the population.

It is stated that an attempt will be made by the Vaccination Officer, to enforce the Vaccination Act the provisions of which are much neglected by the Nelson people. The Act was passed on the 1st March, 1864. It requires that all children shall be vaccinated before they are six months old, and enforces a penalty for non-compliance. To such an extent have the Nelson public failed to obey the provisions of the Act, that out of the 600 or 700 children born since its passing not more than 50 have been vaccinated. Thin information having been communicated by the Registrar of Births, to the vaccination officer, the latter feels himself bound to enforce the penalty prescribed in the event of non-compliance. Apart from sanitary considerations, the neglect of vaccination should no longer be persisted in, as such neglect will in future be followed by the penalty attached to the violation of the law.
Nelson Evening Mail, 27 September 1866

The vaccination requirement remained through to the Vaccination Act 1871, and partts of the Public Health Acts of 1871 to 1908. Compulsory vaccination finally ended after 1920, with the 1920 Health Act making no mention of the practice.

As for Emily Mary McCall, nee Plummer, she was born in Alexandra on July 10, 1867. She married, had six children and died in Auckland Hospital, October 1938. A good life span -- whether the vaccination helped is not known.
Email from Pauline Rundle
F S MacLean, Challenge for Health, A History of Public Health in New Zealand, 1964, p, 237

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