Vaccination: Bridging the Great Divide

immunisation

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With the recent government decision to curb childcare and family tax payments for ‘conscientious objectors’ to childhood vaccination, the great vaccination debate has once again flooded the media and social media alike. We’ve all read the varied reactions and it’s clear that this subject is extremely divisive … But you know what, that’s understandable. We’re talking about the health and safety of ourselves, and our own families here (no matter which side of the debate you happen to fall on).

We’re talking about protecting our children. We’re talking about Life and Death.

It would be amiss for us NOT to feel strongly about that.

But before we stoop to attacking others for their differing opinions, shouldn’t we all take a step back and make sure we’re armed with facts and knowledge over urban myths and scaremongering?

Vaccinations in Australia

Here in Australia we are so lucky to enjoy a huge amount of personal freedom, rights and privileges. One of those is the privilege to choose whether to vaccinate our children. But with any privilege comes great responsibility—in this case, the responsibility to make a well-researched and truly informed decision.

Clearly there are people for whom this is not simply a personal choice. There are people who are against vaccinations for religious reasons and those with legitimate medical reasons who are not able to receive vaccinations (such people are exempt from the government’s announced welfare cuts).

We have those who are against vaccination for personal reasons and, on the other side; there are the firm believers in vaccination. It is clear there needs to be support in bridging the gap between the people who are unsure about vaccinations or worried about them, with those who are very pro-vaccination.

For those who are undecided about whether vaccination is right for their children, let’s take a look at the two main sides to this issue: why we have vaccinations, and why some people object to vaccinations.

Why we have vaccinations

  • Vaccinations can immunise children and adults to keep them safe against certain diseases, such as measles and whooping cough. These conditions can be life-threatening and have no cure.
  • Vaccinations literally save lives. According to the World Health Organisation, ‘Immunisation is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year.’
  • Vaccinations can control the spread of serious diseases in our community. ‘If enough people in the community are immunised, the infection can no longer be spread from person to person, and the disease dies out altogether. This is how smallpox was eliminated from the world’ (source).
  • Vaccinations can protect not just those vaccinated, but also vulnerable members of the community. There are many people, from newborn babies to people with certain medical conditions that cannot receive vaccinations and are at risk of catching diseases. If a high enough proportion of the community is vaccinated against these diseases, it can protect these people’s lives. (This is generally known as ‘herd immunity’, for those wishing to research it further.)

mother and baby

Why some people object to vaccinations

Despite the unequivocal benefits of vaccinations for communities, some people worry about the effects of vaccinations on individuals and may even object to having their children vaccinated. Some reasons include the following.

  • Some people may have reactions to the vaccine, from minor side effects to more serious issues. Anecdotally these stories spread and become to be seen as common events, especially with the rise of social media.
  • There is a fear that vaccination may lead to Autism.
  • Some people are unsure about whether vaccination is effective or necessary.
  • Some people wonder about the verity of the information we have access to about vaccinations and whether it is impartial or biased. 

vaccination baby

Facts versus myths

If you are unsure about vaccinating your child, it is clearly important to separate facts from myths. This means not only doing sufficient research about vaccination, but also making sure the sources are credible and the information is scientifically proven. For more information on what to consider when doing further research, visit qld.gov.au here.

The World Health Organisation has compiled a comprehensive list of myths and facts about vaccination that can be found here. This document covers the biggest fear in relation to vaccination: that it may be unsafe. According to the WHO:

Vaccines are very safe. Most vaccine reactions are usually minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. Very serious health events are extremely rare and are carefully monitored and investigated. You are far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine.

There is no evidence of a link between MMR vaccine and autism or autistic disorders.

Another common myth is that it doesn’t matter when vaccinations are given. Yet, according to Medicare Local:

A vaccination schedule is just as important as the medication itself. If you skip or delay vaccinations your child will be vulnerable to disease for a longer period of time.

The current status of vaccination in Australia

Overall immunisation levels in Australia are currently at 92%. However, the desired level is 95% or higher for stronger protection for the community. Currently 39,000 children under the age of seven are not vaccinated, and in some communities immunisation levels are declining.

In terms of safety concerns, in Australia it is required by law that all vaccines must pass stringent safety testing before being used, which is done over several years, in large clinical trials, and within the strict safety guidelines of the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Vaccines on the National Immunisation Program Schedule are free for all eligible adults and children through GPs, health clinics and Council initiatives (doctors may charge a fee to be seen). Extra vaccines are provided for some groups, and, in Queensland, pregnant women can have a free whooping cough vaccine in their third trimester.

Vaccinations: Our Verdict 

Our top priority is children and the overriding message we are left with is that vaccines are the best way to ensure the overall safety for all. For us the message is clear: Be safe. Vaccinate. For you, we hope your decision is well-informed and respectful of others.

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