Vaccination - Myths and Realities
Fact-Checking the Anti-Vax Myths
On 1st January this year the federal government’s ‘No Jab No Pay’ policy came into effect, making parents who don’t immunise their children (apart from those with medical exemptions) no longer eligible for government assistance payments, including childcare benefits, rebates and Family Tax Benefit A end of year supplements - benefits worth up to $15,000 per year.
The policy was brought in to try and counteract the alarming rise in the numbers of ‘conscientious objectors’ – the somewhat misleading term used to describe parents who decide not to vaccinate their children.
I say it’s a misleading term because, for me, the term ‘conscientious’ implies someone who has made an informed and educated decision about what is best for their child, and the community. ‘Conscientious’ does not accurately describe those parents who choose to ignore all of the scientific data, and instead make life-altering decisions based on pseudo-science and rambling articles written by paranoid quacks.
While figures show that 90 per cent of children under five years of age have been vaccinated in Australia, there are around 40,000 children under seven who have not been vaccinated because of their parents ‘philosophical, moral or religious objections’ .
That’s 40,000 school-aged kids who are unprotected from diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, hepatitis B, diptheria and more (there are 16 diseases vaccinated against in the current schedule). Not only are these kids unprotected, but they also put children who are unable to be vaccinated at risk. Children who are too young, or who are immuno-compromised, or already unwell. Children who rely on the ‘herd immunity’ of the rest of the community to stay safe.
The most recent figures show that the number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children has doubled in the last 10 years. Doubled!
As a parent, this astounds me! Why, with all of the scientific evidence we now have about the efficacy and safety of vaccines, would a parent choose to risk the lives of their children, and others in the community, by not vaccinating?
While there are dozens of different reasons that anti-vaxxers give for refusing to vaccinate, below I’ve outlined four of the most commonly believed myths.
What the Anti-Vaxxers Believe – Common Myths
MYTH: Vaccines are unsafe and untested
FACT: All vaccines currently available in Australia must pass stringent safety testing before being approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Approval processes for new vaccines can take up to 15 years, and once a vaccine is released into general use there is an ongoing review of its efficacy and safety.
While some children will experience side effects after receiving vaccinations, most of these will be mild and short term. Most will experience no side effects at all. Vaccination is recommended by every major health authority in the world, and the scientific evidence tells us it is safe and effective.
MYTH: ‘Natural Immunity’ can protect kids
Many anti-vaxxers believe that being exposed to a disease will provide a natural protection against that disease in the future. This is why anti-vaxxers hold ‘Pox Parties’, where a child who has contracted chickenpox (for example) hosts a party so that other children in the area can be exposed to the virus, consequently developing ‘natural immunity’.
FACT: What these parents fail to understand is that many of these diseases can have very serious consequences – and can even be fatal. While most children who contract chickenpox will simply be unwell and uncomfortable for a week or two, a small minority will develop serious bacterial infections that can involve the skin, lungs, bones, joints and brain. People who have had chickenpox are also at risk of developing shingles later in life, an illness that can have very serious consequences, particularly for the elderly.
Other diseases routinely vaccinated against can cause brain damage, disability and even death. In fact measles – something that many anti-vaxxers consider a ‘harmless childhood illness’ – is the leading cause of death and sickness in children worldwide.
While natural immunity sounds like a wonderful thing, the fact is that a child’s immune system is much more vulnerable without vaccinations.
MYTH: Vaccines cause autism
The belief that vaccines cause autism is often cited by anti-vaxxers as the reason they choose not to vaccinate. This belief is based on one scientific study published in 1998 by former doctor Andrew Wakefield – a study which has since been discredited and withdrawn, and shown to be based on not only poor science, but deliberate fraud. Wakefield subsequently lost his medical licence and all credibility.
FACT: Hundreds of studies have been conducted around the world since 1998, with all finding no causal link between the MMR vaccine and autism. It is understandable that parents who are faced with an autism diagnosis for their child will look for blame somewhere, but sadly, many families are putting their other children at risk by refusing to vaccinate younger siblings after a child is diagnosed with autism.
Parents claim that their child ‘changed overnight’ after having the MMR vaccine, and that there is a direct link between their child receiving the vaccine and developing symptoms of autism, but the fact is, many of the symptoms of autism tend to present themselves around the same time as children receive their vaccinations.
Figures show that some children who aren’t vaccinated are still diagnosed with autism, and millions of vaccinated children don’t develop autism. The rate of autism is rising among the whole population, at the same rate for children who are not vaccinated as for those that are.
MYTH: My unvaccinated child does not affect your vaccinated child
Anti-vaxxers claim that their decision to not vaccinate their own child should not have any bearing on other children who have been vaccinated. If vaccines work, they say, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.
FACT: ‘Herd Immunity’ is required to protect children who are too young to be vaccinated, or who are medically unable to receive vaccinations. Herd immunity is achieved when a significant proportion of the population is vaccinated – the more contagious the disease, the higher the proportion of the population who need to be vaccinated. For measles, a highly contagious disease, herd immunity is achieved when around 90-95% of the population is immune. When vaccination levels drop below the required threshold, diseases that were once close to being eradicated can once again take hold in our communities, like the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland in the USA, and the current measles outbreak in Brunswick, Victoria.
So yes, your unvaccinated child DOES have an impact on my vaccinated child actually. It impacts on the entire community.
Vaccines prevent millions of deaths around the world every year. Our government funds the purchase of vaccinations to protect our population from vaccine-preventable diseases. Immunisation is simple, it’s safe, and luckily for us, it is freely available.
- Center for Disease Control (USA) - www.cdc.gov
- Immunise Australia Program - www.immunise.health.gov.au
- The Truth About Autism - www.health.ny.gov
- World Health Authority - www.who.int