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Vaccine DEBATE

Think Local

But with cases of whooping cough on the increase on the Northern Beaches - and wider Sydney - the scenario is becoming all too real; babies less than six months are at the greatest risk of severe disease if they contract whooping cough with potential complications including lung infection, lack of oxygen to the brain, brain damage and death.

    Government figures show almost all suburbs in our area fall below the government's recommended vaccination rate of 95 per cent (National Health Performance Authority). Although some question the validity of this data due to sample size, it's clear there is a strong anti vaccination community on the Northern Beaches. While researching this article, Peninsula Living spoke to many parents who are fearful of vaccinations, despite government sources and doctors emphasising their safety and benefits. So why, in the face of the overwhelming scientific evidence showing vaccinations are not only recommended but safe, do so many choose not to vaccinate their children?

    Northern beaches based Sam, who first questioned vaccines after her son broke out with a rash after his Jabs and chose not to vaccinate her next two children, thinks parents are choosing not to vaccinate for a variety of reasons. ''Some believe in natural health," she says, "and are unafraid of the vaccinatable diseases and are happy for their child to catch the diseases and acquire long-term immunity.

   “Some read the risks listed in the vaccine package inserts provided by the vaccines manufacturers and aren't willing to expose their children to those risks. The majority seem to be like me and have experienced an adverse reaction and aren't willing to continue vaccinating."

    Sam is not alone. We spoke to many parents echoing similar concerns but such is the emotive nature of the issue, they did not wish to be quoted; even anonymously, as was also the case for those pro-vaccination.

  Pro-vaccination advocates argue not vaccinating has devastating Impacts on the broader community by undermining herd immunity. When herd immunity is compromised, those who have not been vaccinated against these diseases because they are too young, for example, or are being treated for cancer, are at greater risk of infection.

  • It's estimated that vaccination currently saves approximately three million lives each year worldwide.
  • All vaccines available In Australia have been thoroughly tested for safety and efficacy and receive ongoing monitoring and evaluation
  • After immunisation, your child is far less likely to catch the disease if there are cases in the community. If your child does catch the disease, illness is less severe and recovery is quicker Compared to an unimmunised child
  • If enough people in the community are immunised, the infection can no longer be spread from person to person and the disease might die out altogether. This is how smallpox was eliminated from the world, and how polio has disappeared from many countries
  • There is no validated scientific evidence to support the suggestion that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine causes inflammatory bowel disease or autism.

 "We vaccinate our kids to keep them safe, first and foremost" says Manly resident Mark, father of two. "But I couldn't live with myself if I chose not to vaccinate and it meant a pregnant woman got rubella or someone's baby died from whooping cough. In this day and age, how could you?”

   Herd immunity also provides extra protection to those who do vaccinate as vaccinations are not 100 per cent effective. When vaccination rates are too low, this means diseases that would struggle to survive in a fully vaccinated community can keep spreading among both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.

  Northern beaches-based Hollie experienced this when three of her vaccinated children came down with whooping cough, including her youngest who was 14 months at the time. "We think she may have got it from her older sister's school. At the end of last year there were a few kids In her class who had terrible coughs and my older daughter also finished school with a mild cough, which resolved. Her younger brother then caught a cough which he couldn't shake. Since he has asthma, this isn't uncommon so I thought nothing of it until my youngest started coughing and then coughing so badly that she would vomit. I took her to the GP who did a swab. The next day she was worse, to the point where I thought she would stop breathing when she coughed, and she would turn blue and visibly couldn't catch her breath. So I called my paediatrician who said to bring her straight in, which I did. By then the swab results we back and positive.

   "She was started on oral antibiotics and so were my other children, just to cover all bases ... Luckily the antibiotics resolved the cough as they only work if whooping cough was caught in the past three weeks. I believe she was at day 15."

    Dr Michael Staff, Public Health Director from Northern Sydney Local Health District, confirms cases of whooping cough are on the increase in the Northern Beaches, and insists immunisation is a simple, safe and effective way of protecting children against certain diseases.

   “The risks of these diseases are far greater than the very small risks of immunisation, he explains."increases in whooping cough cases tend to occur in three to five year cycles and there was a large increase in cases in 2010. The recent Increase seen on the Northern Beaches and across Sydney is consistent with this pattern.

   “This cyclical pattern is thought to be due to waning immunity in both those individuals who have been vaccinated and those who had the disease.”in response to this, the advice now is for pregnant women to have a vaccination for whooping cough, for every pregnancy, at 28 to 30 weeks. "[This is] so they can pass protective antibodies onto their unborn child…," adds Dr Staff. To add to the new baby's protection, he says it's also essential that carers and siblings are up to date with their vaccinations and, of course, that the baby itself is vaccinated on time according to the childhood immunisation schedule.

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