Child Immunisation: reactions and responses to New Zealand government policy 1920-1990
My thesis has explored the history of child immunisation in New Zealand from a
socio-medical perspective. The framework has been hinged around the actions and
immunisation strategies of the Health Department over the period 1920 to 1990 and
the responses of parents to those actions and strategies.
One of the most important concepts considered was how the Health Department
decided on and then implemented immunisation policy during the period. Health
professionals played a significant role in the delivery of immunisation to children and
have impacted on a number of policy changes. After World War Two, with an
increase in the number of vaccines on offer, the specialised expertise of the World
Health Organization and the Epidemiology Advisory Committee in policy
determination became very influential.
The responses to departmental immunisation policies by parents demonstrated a
significant change during the period, although most apparent in the 1980s. From a
situation of wariness (and perhaps indifference) in the 1920s and 1930s to almost total
vaccine acceptance from the 1950s, the 1980s were, by contrast, illustrative of
parental assertiveness especially concerning side-effects. The advent of feminism in
the 1970s and the issues of informed consent in the mid-1980s assisted in raising
levels of parental awareness in immunisation which continued into the 1990s. Ethnic
and socio-economic background also contributed to different levels of acceptance of
immunisation, which will be addressed.
Opposition to immunisation tended to wax and wane during this period. Two groups
were dominant, although at opposite ends of the time spectrum. Both were small but
vocal in their views. Nevertheless, neither group made much impression on New
Zealand parents, although they were both an irritant to the Health Department.
Overseas experiences in immunisation were interwoven throughout my thesis to set
the New Zealand events in an international context. The introduction of a particular
vaccine was compared and contrasted with similar schemes elsewhere to give an appreciable understanding of New Zealand’s position. Vaccine controversies
overseas were also examined to determine their influence in New Zealand.
Immunisation policy has been shaped by a myriad of factors and influences from both
inside and outside the country. There were extensive changes over the years in the
way parents, health professionals and the Health Department perceived immunisation
which will be examined in my thesis.