This image was compiled from figures from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) by Cosmos Magazine.

It gives a good visual overview of the places where vaccination uptake levels are low and hence the likelihood of diseases spreading once they get into the population is high. The term given to protection from disease outbreak when a large percentage of the population is vaccinated is “herd immunity”. In simple terms, it means those who are not vaccinated because they are either too young or may have allergies or be immunocompromised, are protected by other people.


The concept of “herd immunity” as a mechanism for protecting others is often rejected by anti-vaxers, perhaps because they won’t acknowledge they are putting other people’s kids at risk by choosing not to vaccinate.

For an easy to understand explanation of how herd immunity works check out the video on the website Chain Of Protection.

It’s a stark reminder in light of another death from pertussis this week, this time of a 5 week old baby boy in Adelaide – the first since 2001. South Australia has been experiencing a pertussis epidemic for over 12 months now. According to statistics from the SA Department of Health, during the period of 1 January 2010 to 15 June 2010, a total of 2,277 cases were reported, compared to 1,493 cases reported for the same period last year. Being so young, the boy was too young to be vaccinated and may have caught the bacteria from an adult carrying the disease.

petussis insetMany adults and parents are not aware that their whooping cough vaccine does not last forever and as such, they may need to get a booster shot – especially if they are caring for young children. Some governments offer free booster shots, but the SA government is still considering had lagged behind in this respect.

A story from Adelaide Now reports that SA Health chief medical officer Professor Paddy Phillips said the department was waiting for the release of a report into whooping cough vaccinations.

There’s a Federal Government working party looking into the issue of subsidy for a whooping cough vaccine for adults … when that party reports, we will take up their recommendations,” he said. The party has been working for a long time it would seem. The McCafferys met with both federal and state governments over a year ago, following the death of their daughter from pertussis, to ask them to instigate an education campaign. Let’s not beat around the bush, while departments pass the buck & blame, kids are dying.

For the Adelaide boy’s parents, vaccination was not an option, but some parents are choosing not to vaccinate. Part of the reason for this trend is the amount of misinformation on the internet – and many people rely on “Google University” to get information these days.

The two lowest areas for vaccine coverage in Australia are the Northern Rivers Region (covering the Byron Bay area and the AVN) and the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, demographically two very different areas. One is characterised by alternative lifestyle families (one could say hippies) and the other well educated, affluent white collar workers. Whilst the reason the former choose to not vaccinate is probably clear, the other is not. Whatever the reason, vaccination has been a victim of it’s own success in many ways, as people become complacent about the threat of communicable disease. We don’t see kids in calipers or iron lungs these days, so out of mind out of sight.

Yet, there is plenty of accurate information on the internet for concerned parents if you look in the right places. I wrote this article for the launch of the new Australian Skeptics website over 12 months ago but it still serves as a good resource for links to government websites and other accurate information.

hug me I'm vaccinated

HUG ME! I'm vaccinated pendant from SurlyRamics

One example of bad advice, is that offered by homeopaths who are allegedly recommending “unproven” herbal remedies, including belladonna and phosphorus, for whooping cough.

According to an article on Adelaide Today, homeopaths say their treatments can prevent and cure whooping cough, while doctors say that is “complete rubbish”. The newspaper contacted the Australian Homeopaths Association for comment but did not receive a response. For the uninitiated, homeopathy is water which contains no active ingredients at all, so of course it can’t cure or treat any disease. Well, apart from dehydration of that is.

Not that pesky scientific evidence has got in the way of claims by homeopaths before. Our favourite Aussie fruit-loops over at Homeopathy Plus! issued an e-newsletter this week claiming that criticism of homeopathic vaccines (also known as homeoprophylaxis) was “ orchestrated campaign in which those hostile to homeopathy are trying to stop patients accessing it through the NHS…” and “Homeopathy has been repeatedly used for protection or treatment during world epidemics and outbreaks. It is inexpensive, quickly distributed, easily administered and safe. Remedies exist for all diseases.”

Yes well, citation needed. Actually none of that is accurate.

Meanwhile, the ninth infant has died from pertussis in California in an epidemic about to break records. And the education campaign about the dangers of pertussis promised by the Australian government has not materialised. This is a preventable tragedy and one that needs action now.

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  • Mick

    Nicely written Gaia! 🙂

  • Gaia

    I’m european and In Italy we can buy any homeopathic remedies at the counter since I was little…I’m now 40 years old. The homeopath practitioner as you call them here in Italy and europe are all professional doctors that have been studied traditional medicine for many years and then can specialise in “alternative medicine”…
    What I see in Australia after being here for 10 years if finally the “basic” remedies available at the counter…
    What I also see here, and I believe it’s pretty much in many places now, is also an extremely bad diet, especially with children…kids with normal coughs keep drinking what it’s called the “so good pastorised milk” , damp cheeses, yoghurt (or what you think it’s yogurt, full of gelatine, thickener, sugar…), white bread kept in plastic and so many processed food that, as far as I can see, keep the little ones going to GP’s every second day…people with or without money have this type of “bad” diet thinking to eat healthy… and the diet is the number one prevention from any diseases…sure sometimes is bad luck or it’s meant to be, but it’s too simplistic saying that homeopathic is or isn’t working…so much more to add on that…and unfortunately a lot of people still believe that their body is something separate from their souls and the emotional sphere…it’s good that traditional medicine exists and it’s great that we can be free in this planet to treat ourselves and our children with natural remedies as well.

  • Dion

    I have a two week old boy, wanted to get myself and wife immunised for whooping cough. The hospital didn’t have any vaccine left. They managed to track down a shot for my wife but I COULDN’T get a shot.

    It is very concerning when our governments believe that they are somehow good administrators when they cannot manage such a program. They are also partly to blame for the increase in profile for homeopathy because they lack any credibility in practical issues. We need experienced people in govt, not lawyers and other parasites.

  • Jim

    actually Pete complacency is the most likely reason for the return of these diseases. As it says in the article
    ” vaccination has been a victim of it’s own success in many ways, as people become complacent about the threat of communicable disease.”

    While I would never suggest that “Big Pharma” isnt interested in your money, do you work for nothing? This ad hominem attack is simply poisoning the well and adds nothing to the discussion. (Beside where do you think most of your Homeopathic preparations come from today.)

    I would also like to see your graph showing the decline in Pertussis prior to the introduction of vaccines and the associated data

  • Thirdly homeopathy has recently been proven scientifically to work and how it works

    Evidence please.

  • Pete Mitchell

    One point, those 2 groups in Oz no vaccinating kids for whooping cough are simply informed people, unlike the majority of the population who are subject to money-hungry scaremonger misinformation through media and medical avenues. Secondly whooping cough was on a sharp decline before vaccines were introduced, but big pharma will have you believe the decline was due to their vaccinations, however they do not show you the graph before the vaccines were introduced, which show a similar natural decline due to healthier lifestyles. Thirdly homeopathy has recently been proven scientifically to work and how it works. The only people who say get vaccinated are the ones interested in what is in your wallet! Whooping cough is making a comeback as are other supposedly controlled diseases. Why? The only thing that has changed is the increase in vaccinations, makes you think, doesn’t it!

  • Thanks for writing! Ich danke dir für deinen Beitrag, Lovely

    great post i agree with him that man should never lose his hope there are many opportiunities knocking at your door but the thing is to realiza at right time.

  • Chris

    That is true, Michelle. The vaccine also wears off. Plus, even though your child had pertussis his immunity is only temporary.

    What is needed is to keep up the boosters on older kids, and making sure teenagers and adults get the Tdap when it is time for their tetanus booster.

  • Michelle

    A problem that people don’t realise is that vaccinations don’t always cause immunity. My child has had all his shots and still developed whooping cough – much to my surprise and frustration! I now worry that people assume he hasn’t had shots when he has.

  • davidp

    Yesterday I talked with a GP on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula who had 10 patients test positive for whooping cough in the last week!
    In Victoria, a DTP booster vaccination is recommended (but not subsidised, so you have to fully pay for it) for adults before planning pregnancy or for both parents as soon as possible after birth.
    Grandparents of newborns are also recommended to get the booster, and anyone adult who has been vaccinated as a child who wants the booster can get it (it is “recommended” for them).

    It can be a nasty disease in adults, with a cough lasting months and sometimes breaking ribs from coughing!

  • Michael Kingsford Gray

    Homœpathy can cure all known diseases:
    but only by the expedient of killing the patient.

  • whooke

    Homeopathic vaccination is rubbish in more ways than one. Not only does it fail for all the same reasons as normal homeopathy, but it is inconsistent with homeopathic principles as well. Samuel Hahnemann (the creator of homeopathy) said that homeopathy can only be used to treat symptoms (via the like cures like principle). You can’t treat symptoms that aren’t there yet, hence homeopathy cannot be used preventatively, even if you accept that homeopathy works in principle. Hahnemann was quite clear on this. Furthermore, homeopathy supposedly is tailored to an individual patient. It’s one of the leading excuses to explain why it consistently fails to be effective in all controlled trials beyond the level of a placebo. How can a non-tailored, mass produced vaccine work, even if you accept homeopathy in principle? Homeopathic vaccination is an intellectual fail in so many ways.

  • AndyD

    THIS is depressing. For Australian pharmacists, it’s not about professional advice, it’s all about the money.