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Why I am in favour of the jab

In 1970, as a young infant about to travel to the United States, I was given the smallpox vaccine. While Australia had been largely free of this disease since the early 1900s, there still remained a risk, although minor, of contracting the infection in America and to my parents, the immunisation provided a guarantee against that outcome. It would not be until 1980 that the World Health Organisation would officially declare that smallpox had been eradicated worldwide.

Watching the recent SBS documentary, Jabbed, I realised what a momentous achievement this was. It has been conservatively estimated that smallpox is responsible for the deaths of 300-500 million people. It is also the only disease which has met its demise through a global vaccination program (although polio is not far behind).

Immunisations have been headline news in Australia during recent months. While Bill Gates was in Australia last week securing further funding for polio eradication, the New South Wales Parliament passed what is commonly being referred to as the ˜no jab, no play` legislation in response to the alarming drop in vaccination rates in this state. This gives childcare centres the power to ask parents for a record of their child`s immunisations to date, and to decide whether a child can be enrolled based on that information.

As a mother of two, I am surprised and dismayed at the increase in the number of Australian parents refusing to vaccinate their children. Across Australia, almost 77,000 children are not fully immunised. In 32 areas, vaccination rates have dropped below 85 per cent (the Australian Medical Association considers anything below 93 per cent unsafe).

In a developed country such as Australia, this is an appalling state of affairs for child health. It is also difficult to comprehend, when you consider that we now have available decades of scientific evidence and research which points to a significant decrease in child illness and mortality in areas where immunisation programs are effective and widespread.

Sub-Saharan Africa has seen an 85 per cent drop in measles deaths over the last 10 years through large-scale immunisation campaigns. This is an incredible result from what is essentially an extremely simple health intervention. Many countries are now pinning their hopes on a malaria vaccine.

Meanwhile, the UK is experiencing a measles epidemic, with the highest number of cases in almost two decades. This is largely due to the 1998 study by Dr Wakefield, linking autism with the MMR vaccine. This now discredited research has resulted in fewer parents immunising their children, and a much larger percentage of the UK population now vulnerable to infection.

Worldwide, measles remains one of the leading causes of child mortality. This is despite the fact that, as a disease with no animal carrier, it is scientifically easier to eradicate than smallpox. But only through mass immunisation.

Australian parents who choose not to immunise are currently experiencing a false sense of security. Unvaccinated children in Australia are largely protected by the immunised children around them they provide what health professionals refer to as €˜herd immunity`. But as greater numbers of parents choose not to jab, this will diminish.

In many communities where ChildFund works, there is no herd immunity. This is one of the reasons why we see so many mothers losing their children to preventable childhood diseases. It is also why we see women in remote communities queuing for hours to have their child vaccinated when healthcare teams visit the area.

These women have learned through personal experience that a quick jab gives their child a much greater chance of surviving into adulthood. It would be a terrible tragedy if Australian parents were forced to relearn this important lesson.

For more information, read the World Health Organisation’s myths and facts about vaccination.

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