The number of ACT parents objecting to their children being immunised is at its highest level in two years, figures reveal.
Australian Childhood Immunisation Register data reveals 1.14 per cent or 437 of the 38,309 children in the ACT had a "conscientious" objection recorded as of March, up from 0.99 per cent or 357 of 35,968 children two years previously.
Despite this, the March 2014 figure for ACT children recorded as having a conscientious objection was well below the national average of 1.63 per cent or 36,109 out of more than 2.2 million children on the register.
The figures for the past two years show the ACT had the second lowest level of conscientious objectors of the states and territories in both March 2014 and March 2012 after the Northern Territory. Queensland has recorded the highest rate of conscientious objectors, according to the data for the past nine quarters.
The data shows 1.03 per cent of ACT children (384 out of a total 37,302 children) had a conscientious objection recorded as of last March compared with 1.07 per cent in June (401 of 37,524 children), 1.10 per cent in September (416 of 37,787 children) and 1.12 per cent in December (425 of 38,028 children).
However the ACT continues to have some of the best vaccination rates in the country, with the data for the past four quarters showing about 93 per cent of one- and two-year olds in the territory were fully immunised, compared with about 92 per cent of five-year olds.
An ACT Health spokeswoman said immunisation was one of the most effective "medical interventions" to prevent disease. It is estimated immunisation saves three million lives globally each year, she said.
"Immunisation not only protects individuals, but also protects others in the community, for example those who are too young to be immunised or those who are not able to be immunised for medical reasons, by increasing the overall level of immunity in the population and thus minimising the spread of infection," she said.
The spokeswoman said only a small minority of parents refused to vaccinate their children.
"Their rejection of vaccination may be related to a wider scepticism about orthodox medical interventions and support for alternative approaches to health. Others may have had a personal experience where they, their child or an immediate family member has experienced an adverse event which they feel is attributable to vaccination, or they may be generally concerned about the safety of vaccines for other reasons," she said.
The statistics for conscientious objectors are given as at a particular time and not as the total number recorded each each year. Children are added to the ACIR when registered and removed when they turn seven.
A parent can apply for a "conscientious" objection if they have a personal, philosophical, religious or medical belief that immunisation should not occur.
For a formal objection to be accepted into the ACIR against a child’s record, parents or guardians need to sign and lodge a form, which also needs to be signed by a recognised immunisation provider. The Immunisation provider must declare the risks and benefits associated with immunisation have been explained as have the potential dangers of a child not being immunised.
The ACT Health spokeswoman said vaccinations were not compulsory and parents should discuss their decision with their health professional.
The figures come after the public release this week of a review of global immunisation studies, involving more than 1.25 million children, and case studies, which found no link between common vaccinations and autism.
The review, published in the medical journal Vaccine, found no "statistical data" to support a relationship between autism or autism spectrum disorders and childhood vaccinations for commonly used vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
Sydney Medical School associate professor Guy Eslick, a senior author on the paper, said debate around vaccinations had become a major public health issue. He said the international review was not funded by a pharmaceutical company or vaccine group.
"You've got parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. It reduces herd immunity, which puts everyone at risk of potentially preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, whooping cough and so it's critically important that parents vaccinate their children," he said. "But at the same time parents should be informed of the potential risks associated with vaccination because no medical procedure has zero risk. There are risks but the majority of them are small and serious long-term negative adverse events from vaccinations are extremely rare.
"I hope this study provides some comfort and reassurance that there's pretty much little or no chance of their children developing autism related to having a vaccination and that they should vaccinate their kids because it's for their benefit."
The National Immunisation Program recommends vaccination at birth, two months, four months, six months, 18 months and four years.