Immunisation should no longer be up for debate
VACCINATION is one of the great triumphs of medicine.
These are not my words, but those of Laureate Professor Peter Doherty, who won a Nobel prize in Medicine for his contributions to the science of immunisation.
So I reckon he knows a thing or two.
Yet recalcitrant parents believe they know more, refusing to accept the facts and vaccinate their kids.
In feral hot spots around Queensland, unimmunised children are being put at risk of serious illness, disability and death, and compromising the all-important herd immunity that can save others.
And it's not because mum or dad can't afford the jabs, because the Federal Government picks up the tab for most of them.
There are all manner of myths about immunisation - and hysteria stirred up by anti-vaxxers peddling conspiracy theories - so now the Government is collaborating with the Australian Academy of Science on an updated series of videos and articles that any fool can understand.
The science of immunisation online package, released this week, comes in response to a national survey that shows a numbskull minority still opposes vaccination on the grounds that "it should be the family's personal choice".
It should not, of course, because of social responsibility and a duty to care for the wellbeing of anyone outside the commune.
But the 2018 survey into Australian beliefs and attitudes towards science, carried out by the Australian National University, points to a persistent fringe element that needs to be educated.
Encouragingly, 85 per cent of respondents said all parents should be required to vaccinate their children because of "the proven theory of herd immunity" and because it "stops diseases spreading or returning".
Granted, a very small number of children, for bona fide medical reasons, cannot be immunised, but there's no excuse for those who can.
Yet, in some parts of the state, one in every 15 children is not vaccinated, according to an analysis of Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data.
The science of immunisation package aims to address "misunderstandings", including that a person's reaction to vaccination can be "harmful or allergic in some cases" and that vaccines can't be trusted to work and are not necessary.
The content has been rigorously checked by academy fellows and features contributions from luminaries including the aforementioned Brisbane-born Peter Doherty, Professor Ian Frazer, of the University of Queensland, Professor Anne Kelso, of the National Health and Medical Research Council, Professor Robert Booy, of the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, and Professor Julie Bines, of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute.
Flu victim Sarah Hawthorn, who spent three months in a coma after being struck down by the disease, tells of waking up and being unable to walk, talk or feed herself. Her ongoing health problems include difficulty breathing from scarred lungs and compromised kidney function, ailments a simple flu vaccination could have prevented.
Heartbroken mother Catherine Hughes, whose four-week-old son Riley died of whooping cough, also makes an impassioned plea for immunisation. Babies need to be six weeks' old to be vaccinated, but pregnant women can get the whooping cough jab and pass immunity to their child.
In July this year, the Federal Government made the whooping cough vaccine free, as part of a massive investment of more than $460 million in the National Immunisation Program in 2018 alone.
And from April, a vaccination program free for 14 to 19 year olds will protect against meningococcal strains A, C, W, and Y. The program's announcement last week follows the highly publicised deaths of several teenagers from meningococcal and the brave campaign led by Brisbane mum Kirsten McGinty - and supported by The Courier-Mail - after the shock passing of her daughter Zoe to the W strain.
The fact that politicians, scientists, medical experts and the thinking adult population are working towards the common goal of comprehensive immunisation against death, disability and disease speaks volumes.
But perhaps the last word should go to Professor Ian Frazer.
His brilliant, joint development of the Gardasil vaccine against human papilloma virus means that within 20 years Australia will become the first country in the world to all but eliminate cervical cancer.
"Immunisation is basically tricking the body into thinking it has seen an infection already that it might be challenged by in the future," Frazer says.
"The body makes a defence against the infection even though it hasn't seen it."
This is not just proven science, it's common sense. So get with the immunisation program, people.
Kylie Lang is a Courier-Mail associate editor.