Councillors in St Albans have been told that children in Hertfordshire can not be refused a primary school place if they have not had their vaccinations.

Last month members of St Albans City and District Council backed calls for all children who had not been vaccinated against measles to be refused a place at a Hertfordshire primary school.

Liberal Democrat leader of the council Cllr Chris White wrote to the county’s director of public health Jim McManus to ask what steps could be taken.

Now Mr McManus has told councillors that the county council does not have the authority to make vaccination compulsory for schoolchildren.

However he has suggested a number of measures – with the support of other agencies – designed to boost the uptake of vaccinations in the county.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he was “in two minds” about compulsory vaccination for schoolchildren.

He highlights Italy, where younger children are now turned away from school or nursery if they are not up to date with their vaccinations – and parents of older children are fined.

The move – says Mr McManus – does not seem to have led to higher school drop-out rates.

But he remains concerned that part of the population in Hertfordshire would still not take-up the vaccine – even if a school place depended on it.

And he says nobody yet has an answer as to whether this is a ‘magic bullet’.

Immunisation rates in Hertfordshire are higher than the average in England and in the East of England.

But – with the World Health Organisation suggesting rates need to be at least 95 per cent – Mr MacManus would like them to be higher.

And he identifies gaps in coverage within the county in groups where parents are opposed to the vaccine, in traveller populations and in some ‘deprived’ areas.

In the letter to Cllr White, Mr McManus says the Government is already working on a “much-needed” new vaccination and immunisation strategy for England.

But he commits to setting up a ‘task and finish group’ to agree and implement an improvement plan to boost vaccination coverage in Hertfordshire.

Measures could include developing a campaign for target populations, continuing to make the vaccine available through schools, promoting the vaccination programme through family centres and public health nurses and targeting GP practices with the lowest uptake.

Presenting the initial motion to a meeting of St Albans District Council, in October, Cllr Richard Curthoys said that while the World Health Organisation recommended 95 per cent of the population should be vaccinated, in St Albans that figure was just 87.5 per cent.

And he said: “We need to protect all children adults and school employees against the spread of this potentially fatal disease.

“And we should make parents realise that we are not prepared to put up with any risks associated by irresponsible actions.

“So if you want to get your child a school place in Hertfordshire you should get them protected and prove it.”