Why Do We Vaccinate?

By Sophia van Gent

Is there a debate on vaccination? Alison Gaylard from the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters Group (an area with the lowest rates of immunisation in Australia) doesn’t think so.

“There is no debate. There is science and medicine and then there is fear-mongering, lies and Chinese whispers,” said Gaylard to Natural Health Mag.

“People who choose not to vaccinate themselves and their kids are victims in this, they have been conned, they have been persuaded to make an unsafe choice, and they have been persuaded to leave their kids at risk of serious disease. Yes, in turn that leaves our whole community at risk, but the vast majority of people genuinely believe that they are making the best decisions possible for the people they love,” stated Rachel Heap and the team at Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters group in a Facebook post.

If we want to constructively debate this issue, we also need to address the large cloud of fear that has surrounded this debate, which has been murking the water between fact and fiction around vaccination.

Vaccination is important – it helps prevent re-outbreaks of viruses, even if they have been eliminated before. We’ve seen more than 2.5 billion children be immunized against polio, thanks to an international investment of more than US$11 billion. We’ve seen smallpox be eradicated with the last case of wild smallpox occurring in Somalia in 1977 after claiming 300 million lives alone in the 20th Century. We’ve seen ongoing measles transmission in the United States be eliminated in 2000 and a 99 per cent reduction rate in the decade after the introduction of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) combination vaccination.

Another argument for vaccination is “community immunity” or the conferring of herd immunity to protect those vulnerable to disease because they are unable to be vaccinated.

In March 2014, Riley Hughes died of whooping cough at the young age of 32 days and was the first infant in WA to die of the disease since 2011. 80 per cent of whooping cough deaths occur in infants under 3 months.

His parents Catherine and Greg Hughes are determined for other families to not have to go through the pain they went through and are urging parents to get vaccinated.

“If I had been offered a whooping cough booster during pregnancy, there is a good chance Riley would still be with us today. Whooping cough boosters are now free for pregnant women in their third trimester in Australia, and recommended in every single pregnancy,” his mother wrote in a Facebook post about baby Riley’s last moments.

There are a lot of reasons why parents choose not to vaccinate their kids – research shows that four to five per cent of Australians whose children are not vaccinated face practical, economic, social or geographic impediments. A smaller percentage of Australian parents have beliefs, attitudes and concerns resulting in the choice to reject or delay some or all vaccines for their children.

The vaccination debate is very emotive, with pro-vaccination and anti-vaccination supporters trying to sway readers of their arguments. It’s hard not to do a basic Internet search on the vaccination debate without one side vilifying the other side. It can scare people when all they are trying to do is be informed about their choices.

We need to resist this temptation to vilify the other side if we want to debate this issue and hold constructive conversations on either side. We are all humans, we all want the same thing – we want to protect our families.

As a consequence to the rising numbers of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, the government has implemented a “no jab, no pay” schemes to boost vaccination numbers.

But what if the rhetoric “us vs. them” in the vaccination debate hinders more than it helps? What if instead of a ‘carrot and stick’ approach, we took one to supporting parents in protecting their kids?

We want to know your thoughts on the vaccination debate – is the current government scheme of “no jab, no pay” the right way to get our kids vaccinated or should we approach the issue differently?

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