- 2808. 1013. These aren’t just numbers. They are the number of deaths from diphtheria, pertussis and polio at the height of their outbreak in Australia.
One of the most naive things I hear from people talking about vaccination is that because there aren’t current outbreaks of diseases that were commonplace 100 years ago, their kids will be safe. Let me make this clear – that attitude is not only complete and utter rubbish, it completely threatens the ongoing success of our vaccination program.
Don’t take it for granted that our kids aren’t dying from diphtheria – consider us lucky. It is wholly and solely because of our effective immunisation program that we have managed to eradicate these diseases.
Professor Clem Boughton was once a senior physician at the Division of Infectious Diseases at Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney. In other words, he was at the frontline of treating these diseases. He hits the nail on the head when he talks about the reason complacency is creeping up on vaccines: “As a result of the effectiveness of immunisation programs, most young parents have not seen any of these conditions once so common in the community, and do not realise how dangerous they are.”
The result of such complacency? According to official statistics there were cases of 340 measles in 2014 – almost double the 158 measles in 2013.
So when I hear leaders – such as Pauline Hanson – questioning the validity of vaccines, anger doesn’t even come close. There will always be misinformed opinions, with proponents clustering together in hidden Facebook groups sharing discredited research. But it is completely unacceptable for a politician to use their public platform to put a shadow of a doubt in one person’s mind about something as critical as vaccination.
Vaccination isn’t just about protecting personal health – it’s a social responsibility. Herd immunity is critical to protecting Australians who don’t simply can’t be immunised for medical reasons.
The government has put in place measures linking vaccination with family payments – something Labor has always offered bi-partisan support on, with a view to increasing immunisation rates across Australia. While I am encouraged to hear the Prime Minister’s ongoing support for these measures, I think the government must go further and call out One Nation’s comments for what they are – a danger to public health.
The reason most of us can’t fathom the devastation that diseases such as rubella, measles, diphtheria and polio cause is because of our successful immunisation program.
Parents, educate yourself. If your children are vaccinated, take comfort in knowing you have gifted your children protection against these diseases. And if you have voluntarily opted not to have your children vaccinated, then please look at the shocking evidence carefully.
Read the story of Riley, who passed away in the arms of his parents from whooping cough, at just 32 days old.
Read the story of Gary Buchanan, who because of polio, spent two years strapped to an iron frame at St George’s Hospital.
Read the story of a mother whose daughter lost the ability to walk, to see, and survived only six months after being diagnosed with complications from measles as an infant.
Pauline Hanson – read these stories, and think twice before you use your public platform to cast doubt on vaccination.