Basically all medications and drugs and vaccines are supposed to go through a double blind placebo study where one group is given the treatment and another group is given a placebo or like a sugar pill and in over 200 years of vaccine history, this has never been done for any vaccine. So anything we know or think we know about vaccinations is purely guess work.
Meryl Dorey, The Australian Vaccination Network, 2006.

With recent talk about how the anti-vaccine crowd have effected rates of vaccination in the UK and the States, I thought it might be interesting to look closer to home to see how Australia stacks up.

This week Medicare, Australia’s government run health body released figures from the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register detailing the rates of immunisation in this country.

The latest figures are from December 2008. On the face of it, it seems we are doing pretty well. For kids aged up to 15 months, the national average for immunisation is 91% with the lowest levels being 89.9% for Western Australia. The national average falls to 88.4 % in the up to 5 years of age group with the lowest compliance of 85.5% in South Australia. When you consider that approximately 90% vaccination is needed to obtain herd immunity, but this depends on the vaccine and the disease, these figures are encouraging.

Rob Menzies, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, said low vaccination rates were often more prevalent where well-educated parents did their own research and believed the myths that vaccines did more harm than good. This was reflected in figures for Sydney’s exclusive Eastern Suburbs, including the harbour view, well-to-do suburbs of Double Bay and Vaucluse, which were ranked the worst, with only 80 per cent of children immunised. This was followed closely by the areas of Lismore, Alstonville and Byron Bay, areas known for “alternative lifestyles” so these figures are not overly surprising.

There has been much discussion and speculation about why the wealthy suburbs are less likely to get their kids vaccinated. One journalist described the parents as, “Selfish dummy mummies need consciences pricked”. Adele Horin, reporting in the Sydney Morning Herald explained; “These are women who spend too many hours on wacky internet health sites and become convinced immunisation is a giant conspiracy”. She further described them as “The educated mother who thinks she knows better than the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists and doctors…” These statements are supported by Arthur Allen, author of the book Vaccine, A History of Immunisation. He observed that “living in a place with a high percentage of PhDs is a risk factor for whooping cough”.

Scathing stuff indeed. But in a case of backward logic the anti-vaccers have actually claimed this for themselves loudly proclaiming, “parents continue to be accused of being ignorant, uncaring and stupid for refusing vaccines which the medical community claim will keep their children healthy when the truth is older, highly educated parents form the basis of the [sic] anti-immunisation lobby’.

Not something to be proud of I would have thought. However, one wonders if these are the parents glued to morning television when the likes of Meryl Dorey from the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) can regularly be seen, spouting her misinformed anti-vacc. nonsense. She is like a watered down version of Jenny McCarthy, without all the cash and the hilarious boyfriend.

The innocuously titled AVN, fronted by the screeching Meryl Dory, go by the catch phrase, “love them, protect them, never inject them”. Meryl is regularly given a platform on morning television shows in Australia, such as Mornings with Kerri-Anne. In defence of Kerri-Anne, they usually have a representative from the sensible side, in this case Dr Penny Adams. However just like the overseas breeds, Meryl is not shy about exposing her ingnorance to a national audience.

As a demonstration of how little the AVN understand about science and medicine, I will use an article written by them called “10 reasons why parents choose not to vaccinate”.

Reason 1: Vaccines have never been tested.
A true indication of how little AVN know about how the drug development process works. I won’t bore you with the details of this process today, but I will tell you it takes millions of dollars, around 10 years and at least 4 phases of testing, which continues even after the drug is released.
Evidence that this process works can be found in the case of a vaccine for the rotavirus called Rotashield which was released in the US in August 1988. In pre-licensure trials, the vaccine appeared to be safe, but in post-licensure surveillance it was associated with an increased risk of intussusception (a rare form of bowel obstruction occurring in infants). As soon as this problem was discovered, the vaccine was withdrawn from the market. Rotashield® was never released in Australia, and each new rotavirus vaccine has undergone testing in around 70,000 young children to rule out a risk of bowel obstruction.

Reason 2: Vaccines contain toxic additives and heavy metals
Here they are of course scaremongering with thimerosol, a mercury-based preservative that has been used in very small amounts in some vaccines since the 1930s to prevent bacterial and fungal contamination. There is no evidence that thiomersal in vaccines has caused any health problems, except perhaps minor reactions, such as redness at the injection site. THimerosol was removed from childhood vaccines as a precaution in 2000. Some vaccines, such as pneumococcal vaccines, MMR and other live attenuated viral vaccines, never contained thiomersal. Whilst there are certain vaccines for adults that stil contain thimerosol, the levels are extrememly low. Much lower than the level of exposure we get to mercury in our daily lives.

I don’t have time to discuss all their claims, except to day that they are full of accusations and conspiracies we have come to expect from such ignorant people, such as pharmaceutical companies have paid for all the vaccine studies to date, and this outrageous statement;

“Some childhood illnesses have beneficial aspects and therefore prevention may not necessarily be in the interests of the child”

whooping_c_m1696018You really think so Meryl Dorey? Why don’t we use one example of a childhood illness, whooping cough, (which can be vaccinated against) and look at whether it’s in the interest of the child to contract it. I chose whooping cough since Australia is currently experiencing an epidemic.

According to some reports, more than 13,000 cases were diagnosed across Australia – a 15 year high. In October 2008, there were more than 40 confirmed cases in the Bega Valley region, most were in school aged children, from the same school and the health service said that most of the cases were in children who have not been immunised.

Whooping cough is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. Babies are vaccinated against pertussis at 2 months, then 4 months, 6 months and 4 years. Whooping cough is particularly serious in young children, where one in every 200 babies who contract the infection will die. Some can even crack ribs through violent coughing attacks. A recent report about the current epidemic cited the story of a 14 week old girl, who has had whooping cough since she was two weeks old. Her terrified mother explained how she had turned blue several times, whilst gasping for air following long coughing fits.

The ‘whoop’ (which is not always obvious) is due to a deep breath at the end of a bout of coughing. Vomiting after coughing is common. Severe complications which occur almost exclusively in unvaccinated people include seizures and pneumonia. In babies under 6 months of age the symptoms can be severe or life threatening and include;

0643260400• Haemorrhage (bleeding)
• Apnoea (stopping breathing for long periods of time)
• Pneumonia
• Inflammation of the brain
• Convulsions and coma
• Permanent brain damage
• Death.

Whooping cough is not a disease you want to mess with. According to health officials, the recent Australian epidemic of whooping cough is likely a result of a reduction in vaccination. North Coast Area Health Service director of public health, Paul Corben said, “Communities with low vaccination rates have had more than eight times the rate of disease seen in those areas with the highest vaccination rates”.

Although the AVN are a relatively small organisation they are well organised and active, therefore they can do significant damage.

Australian listeners may remember the case of parents who fled hospital and the authorities with their new born in August 2008, to avoid having to have him vaccinated for hepatitis B. The sad thing is the mother has hepatitis B herself. Although it is not compulsory to be vaccinated in Australia, it is health department policy that children born of hepatitis B positive mothers are offered immunoglobulin for the child within 12 hours of birth and four doses of the vaccine over six months. In a tragic tale of ignorance, the mother told reporters that the couple believed aluminium in the vaccine could cause him more damage than the child contracting hepatitis B. And of course the father is a member of the Australian Vaccination Network, by which the couple are now touted as heroes.

Australia also has the usual suspects, the chiropractors who don’t proclaim it from the rooftops but upon questioning will tell you not to vaccinate. They will also follow the MMR-autism line. I had one tell me this at a recent Mothers, Babies, and pregnancy expo. And of course we can’t forget the despicable homeopaths who will also tell you on the sly that you can use homeopathy to vaccinate your kids. (BTW, there is no such thing as a homeopathic vaccine or a process known as homeopathic vaccination. It is called homeopathic immunisation, sometimes known as homeoprophylaxis, according to the irresponsible website

For more information about the myths and realities of vaccinations, see the Australian government’s publication “Vaccination; myths and realities, responding to arguments against immunisation” (see below). This is a thoroughly researched and easy to read resource which addresses fact and fiction about vaccination. Also useful even if you are not in Australia and particularly good for passing on to anyone you know who might have some dodgy ideas about the merits of vaccination.

References and further reading:
Immunisation, myths and realites. Responding to arguments against immunisation. A guide for practitioners. Australian Government Department of Health Ageing. 4th edition.

Current immunisation schedule

The MMR Decison Aid from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, Australia.

Fact sheet – A guide to homeopathic vaccination.

Only listen to these homeopathy podcasts if you are sitting down. The stupid, it burns.

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