Monday, June 17, 2013

Australia's Anti-Vaccine Approach

Australia conducted a national survey on the attitudes of vaccination and found that 50% of parents are worried about the safety of childhood vaccines. This statistic has heightened concerns of childhood outbreaks of disease.

Parents who were opposed to vaccination stated that the Internet was their main source of information. Those in favor of vaccination obtained their information from their family doctor. Over 92 percent of 2-year olds in Australia are fully immunized, but officials note some areas have lower coverage. No Jab No Play law changes have been proposed to allow preschools and childcare centers to ban unvaccinated children.

“If the attitude of complacency becomes too widespread, we risk falling back into an epidemic situation again,” says Immunologist Sir Gustav Nossal. “Diseases will re-emerge if immunization rates drop too low.” The recent measles outbreak in Wales highlights this point.

Australian Health Minister Tanya Pilbersek condemned the amount of misinformation around vaccination while encouraging parents to immunize their children. All three of Pilbersek’s children are fully immunized.

“Vaccination has been repeatedly demonstrated to be one of the most effective public health measures at our disposal and saves an estimated three million lives around the world each year,” Pilbersek states.

“Dr. Google has been a negative influence in this debate,” she continues. “Instead of giving credence to thoroughly disproved theories, parents should read about the myths and realities of vaccination and talk to their general practitioner.”

Pilbersek’s statements coincide with Australia’s release of the updated booklet, Immunisation Myths and Realities. The booklet addresses many common myths and safety concerns and stresses that the benefits of vaccine in terms of reducing illness and death far outweighs the small risks.

Dr. Seth Berkley, the CEO of the GAVI Alliance, which provides children in developing countries with access to vaccines, says that most parents who opt-out of vaccinations are being guided by irrational fears that are a luxury of living in the developed world.

“There is a real danger that such fears will trickle down into the developing world where lives are even more vulnerable. In wealthy countries most of us have either forgotten or never knew the horror of these diseases,” Dr. Berkley notes.

“This issue of mistrust is not about whether vaccines work,” he continues. “On the contrary, parents who opt out are very much counting on it, relying on everyone else to provide the herd immunity they have so willingly rejected. If everyone does this, then the fear of a remote possibility of your child having an adverse reaction to the vaccine is replaced by the far more immediate risk that they could become seriously ill.”

The situation Dr. Berkley refers to was magnified by the measles outbreak in Wales, when long lines began forming, as parents caught their children up on the MMR vaccine. Vaccine Watch encourages all parents to address their vaccine fears by talking with their family doctor.

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