I am a passionate supporter of vaccination. After having a child that was immuno-suppressed and brought home as a newborn in the midst of a whooping cough epidemic, I suppose it was inevitable. Imagine other people’s parenting decisions being a matter of life and death for your child. It was difficult for me to watch the anti-vaccination lobby compelling other parents not to vaccinate, leaving their children and mine susceptible to potentially fatal illness. Except while their child may be lucky enough to survive, for my daughter a disease like whooping cough would almost certainly be fatal.
The thing about having a very sick child is that it leaves its mark. Though my daughter has now fully recovered I have an acute understanding of how this debate can affect individual children. I still don’t know how my daughter would cope with something like whooping cough; the affects of chronic lung disease long term are unknown so I can’t really tell how she would fare. But for the most part she is healthy and strong. Regardless, that protective instinct and the memory of nearly losing her are imprinted on me. After the experience of bringing my tiny, oxygenated baby home from hospital during an outbreak, it’s still heartbreaking to think that the lives of other vulnerable children are being risked unnecessarily.
The No Jab No Play policy announced by Prime Minister Abbott earlier this week is important because vaccination protects the entire community. In particular, herd immunity protects the sick, the young, the old and those that medically cannot be protected through vaccination. It protects our most vulnerable members of society, just like my daughter was. Frankly, its a community responsibility that every parent should take very seriously. Given the infinitesimally low odds of a vaccine reaction and the very real risk of permanent injury or death from vaccine preventable diseases, every child deserves protection.
Herd immunity occurs when a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated against an illness, leaving few enough people unprotected and therefore making it difficult for a disease to spread. It is the reason we have no more small pox and very few cases of Polio worldwide, and the way we almost defeated measles too. It protects everyone, but especially our most vulnerable. To not vaccinate means you are willing to accept the protection afforded to your child by other community members, but you are unwilling to take on a tiny risk to offer the same to to other people.
Vaccination rates hover around 90%, (though they vary for each disease, age group and geographic location), but herd immunity requires of 90-95% of the community to be vaccinated depending on the disease. We are on a knife edge that leaves our community inadequately defended against preventable disease and the most vulnerable will be the ones to suffer.
This policy attaches a consequence to a parenting decision. Financial incentivisation has worked in the past. With an estimated 1.77% of the community registered as conscientious objectors, there are still around 8% of the community that are undecided. Vaccinating these children could be the difference between life and death for some of their peers. It may be the difference between life and death for children that are sick, allergic or to young to be vaccinated. The policy costs nothing to employ and could compel those parents that are unsure or have been exposed to convincing but incorrect pseudo-science.
A version of this article appeared on North Shore Mums, (www.northshoremums.com.au)