INTERVIEWERS: Good morning, Catherine.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Good morning, how are you?
INTERVIEWERS: Good. We were talking about how parents will lose, according to Tony Abbott, from the 1st of January the old “No Jab, No Pay”, thousands of dollars in child care and welfare benefits if they refuse to vaccinate their kids. Thousands of families could lose these payments and they’re estimating about 39,000 children under the age of seven have not received immunisation because their parents are vaccine objectors. What do you think about that?
KING: We think this is a good policy idea. It’s in fact a policy idea we took to the 2013 election so we support the government’s stance on this. In fact Bill Shorten wrote to Tony Abbott last week asking him to do exactly this.
What we know is that we do have good immunisation rates in Australia. About 92 per cent of all five year olds are fully vaccinated. But even the small number who are not vaccinating can lead to a loss, and this sounds a weird term but it’s the term the medicos use, a loss of what’s called ‘herd immunity’. And then that leads to outbreaks amongst the most vulnerable patients and then you see, unfortunately you’ve seen the tragic death of beautiful baby Riley in your community just recently of whooping cough.
And that’s the sort of thing that’s happening, you’re starting to see outbreaks of measles in the USA, something which we thought we had managed to eradicate some time ago. We’ve managed to do that in this community. That has very serious consequences for, certainly those who are too young, or too sick to be immunised.
INTERVIEWERS: Several critics have come out of the academic sector who say this won’t actually affect immunisation rates because the rich simply will ignore it anyway. You can’t change the mind of those anti-vaxxers?
KING: There are two things that are happening here. There’s a group of people who have a false belief, frankly, that vaccines are bad for them and are making decisions on that basis. There are also people for a range of reasons, whether they’ve moved a lot, or just failed to make sure that they’re up to date with their kids’ immunisation for a range of reasons. So, across suburbs in different areas it’s really varied.
So, this measure, you’re quite right, on its own, this is not the only thing you should do. One of the things that’s been working really well, and I hope these new Primary Health Networks the government has just announced will continue, is that you’ve got previously Medicare Locals doing work with GPs, doing work with community health centres and child care centres, helping parents to understand the importance of vaccination and then actually help people try to catch up on vaccinations.
So, it is one measure that you use to increase immunisation rates, but it is not the only one.
INTERVIEWERS: Catherine, why can’t we just bring in … because at this stage if you want your child to be educated, go to school, they have to be immunised, unless of course there’s the loophole where they become a conscientious objector and then they don’t have to. Why can’t we close that down? Why can’t we just say if you want your child at school to be educated, private or public, they must be immunised?
KING: Basically, what this measure does is really tighten up the range of objections under which you can actually claim that. It’s no longer a conscientious objection, you have to be affiliated with a religious group where the governing body has formally registered an objection and that has been approved and there’s a process that will need to be set up to do that. So, it’s really tightened it down, so there’s a very small number who will be eligible on that basis.
I guess on the other hand is that we want to make sure that children are able to be educated. We want to make sure, particularly if it’s in socio-economic disadvantaged areas that people are encouraged to immunise their children and at the same time that they also educate their kids as well. So it’s a bit of a balancing act but we do know that the more we have increased vaccination rates the more likely it is we’re not going to see tragic deaths like Riley’s.
INTERVIEWERS: It’s quite rare, as we all know, both sides of government agree on something Catherine. What are you going to say to parents who still go ‘no, no, I’m not doing that’ for what ever reason. What have you got to say those people who are that against having their children vaccinated?
KING: Of course that is a choice that some parents will make. It’s a choice that we say, and I would say very clearly, is go and talk to your general practitioner, go and find out the scientific evidence, not based on the internet, and on chat rooms and on the anti-vaccination campaign who frankly do run a very false campaign. Go and find that out and if that is still your decision, you are putting your child and other children at risk and I would really encourage parents to think very, very carefully about that.
I know there’s been enormous misinformation spread about this issue. Of course, when you’re a parent you’re frightened about what might happen. There’s lots of information you get as a young parent about things but I think the death of young Riley in your community should serve a pretty salutary warning. The fact that we’ve had a baby die of whooping cough, and it is just the most awful, awful thing to see, really should get people to pause and think, well what is the science here? And you should base what you are doing on the science, not crackpot science on the internet.
INTERVIEWERS: Great, Federal Shadow Health Minister Catherine King, thank you very much Catherine for your time. Appreciate that.
KING: Really good to talk to all of you this morning.