A plan to allow childcare centres to ban children who are not immunised, following revelations Mullumbimby topped the national list of ‘vaccine refusers’, has been backed by Ballina MP and minister for the north coast, Don Page, as well as both sides of the NSW Parliament.
‘Mullumbimby now has the lowest vaccination rates nationally with less than half its young children now fronting up for their shots,’ Mr Page told ABC radio, referring to a report from the National Health Performance Authority.
He said that parents should consult their GPs about immunisation rather than the internet, adding that whooping cough, polio and diphtheria were all preventable diseases and people were not only putting their own children at risk, but the whole community as the level of ‘herd immunity’ fell.
Mr Page was responding to legislation proposed by opposition leader John Robertson yesterday to give preschools and childcare centres the right to refuse children who weren’t vaccinated.
‘People shouldn’t underestimate the importance of immunisation. All these diseases potentially are preventable providing we have enough people in the community who can guarantee the herd immunity,’ Mr Page told the ABC.
He added that without immunisation, the whole population, particularly young people, were at risk of contracting these ‘terrible diseases’.
Public Health North Coast assistant director Greg Bell said the consequences for towns like Mullumbimby could be dire and he hoped more people would visit their GP or health professional to discuss immunisation.
‘When there are outbreaks or high disease loadings it’s been proven that [lack of immunisation] actually has a negative effect on the whole community in that you’re a long way away from any “herd effect” in so far as being protected from a lot of these diseases,’ Mr Bell said.
‘To get a decent “herd effect”, in other words a protection from vaccine-preventable diseases, you need an immunisation rate of low 90s through to about 97 per cent; when you’ve only got 50 per cent it automatically means that your community is at risk of outbreaks.
‘For example, a whooping cough outbreak can really be very serious and we’ve seen examples of that up here on the north coast.
‘We’re telling people to really give it some really serious thought, make some informed decisions and try to get advice from independent immunisation providers (such as your doctor) and talk it over with them.’
Mr Bell said there was a new mobile immunisation app for young parents put out by the federal government.
‘People can check it all out and if they like to register they can actually be automatically reminded by text when shots are due,’ he said.
‘What we’re trying to say to people is immunisation is for the whole community.
‘We’re trying to get away from individual views by vaccine-refusers, who are often only thinking from their own point of view, whereas we’re trying to say vaccines are really good in protecting the health and wellbeing of the whole community; but the group we’re thinking about most is the little ones, babies between birth and six months, who are very vulnerable.’
Opposition leader John Robertson said yesterday that immunisation was a community-wide issue and his proposed bill was a sensible step to empower preschools and childcare centres.
‘[It] reminds me of the saying: “all for one and one for all”,’ he said, speaking ‘not just as a politician, but also as a parent,’ Mr Robertson wrote in his News Ltd column.
‘Mums and dads who vaccinate their child against diseases such as measles, chicken pox or whooping cough are doing the right thing.
‘The medical literature is clear. When community immunisation rates drop because some parents fall prey to misleading scare campaigns, bad science or sheer stubbornness, it increases the risk of an epidemic for everyone and it becomes the responsibility of elected officials to act.
‘Let’s not mince words. Parents who choose not to vaccinate aren’t just putting their child at risk. They are endangering other innocent children as well. Vaccination saves lives and that’s what Labor’s legislation seeks to do,’ he said.