The decision to Vaccinate or not.. many opposing views in Australia. What are the benefits? Why do some families choose not to Vaccinate their children? What are the laws surrounding Vaccinations and enrolment in early childhood services? Read on to understand more about the debate and to help you make more of an informed decision about Vaccinations for your child.
Introduction to Childhood Vaccinations in Australia
During the 20th century, approximately one in ten children did not survive beyond their first birthday. The large number of infant and childhood deaths was strongly linked to many diseases that are now under control with infant and childhood vaccination programs. In 1956, a vaccination program against polio began and was so successful that polio has been pretty much eliminated from Australia today. Despite the significant reduction in childhood deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases, it is expected that some parents might still feel concern in regards to immunising their children. When making this decision, it is important to separate fact from fiction to help you make an informed decision about what is best for your child and family.
What is Immunisation?
Immunisation involves receiving a vaccination that has been created to stimulate the body’s immune system in order to increase immunity to a particular disease. This immunity safeguards children from the impacts of the disease and reduces the likelihood of health issues in the long-term – thereby also reducing the pressure placed on our health care systems. Whilst vaccines don’t always stop a disease completely, it certainly reduces the severity of it and also significantly lowers the likelihood of death or long-term damage from the disease.
Fortunately, many vaccines are given for free under the Australian Government’s national Immunisation Program to ensure that cost is not a barrier to accessing this kind of health care. You can find the Australian national Immunisation Program schedule here: https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/immunisation/immunisation-throughout-life/national-immunisation-program-schedule
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), are responsible for monitoring medicines within Australia to ensure their safety and each vaccine is rigorously tested for effectiveness and safety before it can be made available to the public. They give their assurance that when it comes to the vaccination schedule, the benefits of receiving approved immunisations far outweigh the risks.
Australian Laws Surrounding Immunisation
On the 1st January 2016, a No Jab, No Pay arrangement was implemented by the Department of Health and meant that parents who choose not to immunise their children in line with the National Immunisation Program would no longer be able to receive Subsidized Child Care. This provided a strong incentive for families to vaccinate and is applicable to children up to the age of 19. To meet the immunisation requirements, children must either be fully up to date in line with the vaccination schedule, be on a doctor-approved catch-up schedule or hold an approved exemption. It is also important to note that exemptions based on conscientious, personal or religious beliefs are no longer accepted.
In addition to the No Jab, No Pay arrangement, many states have now put in place a No Jab, No Play legislations which prohibit the enrolment of children into early childhood services unless they are up to date with their vaccinations. It is important to note however, that if a child was enrolled in an early learning service before this law came into place, and they were not vaccinated, or had not kept up to date with their immunisations, they would still be permitted to remain enrolled at this service (without any Child Care Subsidy payments) but would not be permitted to enrol in a different service. If there was an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease, such as Chicken Pox or Whooping Cough, they would most likely be asked to remain at home, not attending the service until the outbreak was under control.
Whilst a consistent approach across Australia is being considered, this legislation currently differs from state to state. To find out what the legislative requirements are for your state, follow this link: https://www.ncirs.org.au/public/no-jab-no-play-no-jab-no-pay
Deciding to Immunise
Every parent has a deep desire to do what is best for their child and being informed about the benefits and risks associated with immunisation will help to support the decision-making process. It is true that there is a risk of side effects from immunisations, however this risk is far less than the likelihood of serious complications that could occur from catching a vaccine preventable disease. Many of these diseases are extremely contagious and can be more powerful than the body’s own defences. Whooping cough, for example, is highly contagious and can be deadly for babies. Immunising against whooping cough is extremely beneficial for protecting babies and young children from the serious consequences of contracting this disease. You can read more about the benefits of immunisations here: https://campaigns.health.gov.au/immunisationfacts/why-get-immunised
Whilst some people might experience mild side effects from immunisations, such as pain, swelling or redness – serious reactions are very rare. Some people might also experience anxiety about needles – in which case it is important to speak with your doctor who can support you through the process.
Myths about Immunisation
Perhaps the most widespread myth that we have heard about immunisations is that they can cause autism. This theory began with a study that was published by Andrew Wakefield in 1997 where he suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was responsible for increasing the prevalence of autism in British children. Since the publication of this paper this idea has been completely discredited, even with further studies being conducted. No link has ever been found between any vaccine and autism.
We have also heard concerns about infant immune systems being unable to handle vaccines and that vaccines contain toxic chemicals. Both of these arguments are not supported by research. Further to this, it has been suggested that natural immunity might be better than vaccine-acquired immunity. Whilst in some cases a natural immunity can develop from catching a disease, this approach is very dangerous given the number of children historically who have died from catching vaccine preventable diseases. You can read more about immunisation myths and facts here: https://www.nib.com.au/the-checkup/healthy-living/the-biggest-vaccination-myths-busted
As with most things in life, knowledge is power. Being educated surrounding the benefits and risks of immunising children will certainly make the decision-making process much easier for parents. If you are still feeling concerned about vaccinating your child, please speak with your doctor or an immunisation health care professional. Alternatively, you can call the national immunisation information line on 1800 671 811 for further information.