Vaccination school ban sparks backlash

Dominic Feain

Passions were running hot on websites and internet forums yesterday as people responded to a push by politicians and North Coast Public Health officials to raise local immunisation rates.

Legislation, proposed by NSW opposition leader John Robertson to empower preschools and childcare centres to refuse children who are not vaccinated, incurred the ire of parents committed to the non-immunisation path.

While the now-familiar arguments and conspiracy theories for and against were flying thick and fast on Echonetdaily’s website, no ground was being given by either side of the fiercely polarised issue.

Acclaimed Australian filmmaker Sonya Pemberton, director of a new SBS documentary, Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines, that will screen nationally this Sunday, was similarly affected by the disturbing undercurrent of the ‘debate’.

Ms Pemberton poses the question that perhaps we need to find a new way to negotiate the divide?

‘I’m not a vaccine advocate (although I’m vaccinated). I am someone who accepts the need for vaccines, and yet has questions,’ she explains on the show’s website.

‘I seek a new conversation around vaccination, one where we can ask questions without being rude, where we can embrace complexity,’ she said.

Byron Shire residents were also divided on the question. Mac Nicholson told Echonetdaily he agreed with both sides of the argument.

‘If you never want your child to get whooping cough you should vaccinate them. Well, at least the odds are better they won’t get it. If you never want your child to have ongoing health problems throughout their lives you should never vaccinate them, or at least the odds are better if you don’t. This is the world, folks. It is full of contradictions and does not contain any certainties whatsoever’.

Ash Thompson said, ‘how dare the government tell anyone how to raise their child and take away our rights and options. It’s ridiculous to not use natural remedies. I never vaccinated my children and no probs; if anything was going around such as whooping cough, I would vaccinate homoeopathically.’

Ilona Roberts said, ‘Mullum might have the lowest vaccination rate, but does it have correspondingly high rates of diphtheria and whooping cough? If so, the argument to force parents to vaccinate might have some substance. If not, those pushing might need to rethink their case. If vaccines work, vaccinated children should be in no danger when in contact with unvaccinated children. Isn’t that the point of getting jabbed in the first place? Otherwise why do I get shots before going overseas?’

As diseases that were effectively eradicated 40 years ago begin to re-emerge, the SBS documentary Jabbed explores the juxtaposition of facts and fears on both sides, and asks how parents reach a thoughtful, informed decision in such a climate.


Ms Pemberton said that in 2009 she made a documentary called Catching Cancer, which explored how some cancers are caused by viruses ‘and how this is surprisingly good news, for if a virus is to blame, then we can try to create vaccines to counter them’.

‘After the film went to air I received lots of feedback, mostly positive. But I also received feedback from people strongly opposed to vaccines, particularly the cervical-cancer vaccines, and some of this feedback was angry, even nasty.’

Ms Pemberton didn’t recognise the depth of distrust she encountered and wanted to understand.

‘I spent months listening to stories: stories of children who died from lack of a vaccine; stories of children seriously hurt after vaccines; and stories of parents trying to make sense of it all,’ she explained.

‘There was a point when I was overloaded; I cried so many tears for so many families. I was exhausted from all the statistics and counter-statistics, and weary of the ridicule and nastiness on both sides.

‘I was scared of the diseases and scared of the rare (but real) vaccine reactions. It all seemed too complex. At that point I wanted to walk away from making a film about vaccines.’

But like any good filmmaker, she couldn’t. Three years later she says she has travelled a remarkable journey and wants to generate a ‘new style of conversation around vaccines’.

‘Three years ago I was an unquestioning vaccine supporter. Then, as I began delving deeper, I realised that occasionally vaccines can do harm. I understood the extraordinary freedom from disease vaccines have delivered, but now I also understood the fear,’ she said.

‘Today I see that there are risks involved, and how it helps to have these risks acknowledged; that it is a business like so many others (one driven by extraordinary people and flawed people) and we must pay attention and hold it accountable.

‘Today when someone says to me they don’t “believe in” vaccination, I no longer thunder back crossly, “It’s not about faith, it’s science!”.

‘Instead I ask them, “Why?” Their reasons are as varied as the people themselves. They often teach me a great deal and many are genuinely seeking a conversation, not simply looking to affirm their pre-existing position. And so we listen to each other’s stories.’

Jabbed: Love, Fear and Vaccines screens on SBS One this Sunday at 8.30pm.




7 responses to “Vaccination school ban sparks backlash”

  1. If polio became as common an ailment as the flu, what would these people say then? Expect the government to help them with their child’s illness?

  2. David says:

    So what do Doctors recommend?

  3. Children die from vaccinations. Children die from not being vaccinated. I look forward to a more balanced, nuanced look at the issue than this partisan divide.

  4. Yay!

    Finally, a well balanced article on a complex and emotive topic. A‘new style of conversation around vaccines’ is most certainly welcome.

  5. Kevin says:

    Freedom of choice! Without bias and especially without political pressure from people who know absolutely nothing about the science of vaccination.
    We are following the US down the very slippery slope they are heading in relation to vaccination and it is not a pretty one.
    If anyone thinks this is another rant from an anti-vaccination nutter, think again, my kids are vaccinated, I’m pro chopice.
    Let people make up their own minds and then leave it at that.

  6. david levine says:

    This is yet another subject that has no one answer. If you had a child pass on because of one of these diseases then from your perspective would be in the yes camp. If you lost your child through having the vaccine then you would be in the NO camp. I believe like so many other subjects it is about choice. The freedom of choice and respecting peoples right to choose. I don’t believe its up to doctors or a government to dictate to anyone what they should or should not do. It’s about presenting the unbiased facts from all sides and making an informed decision. Personally, as a child i had the vaccines that were about then. My son had all the vaccines but my daughter only had one before we decided to say no more. The outcome? Well how do we really know what is attributable to vaccines? But observing the over all health of my son and daughter over the years. My son’s physical constitution was not as strong as my daughters. She rarely got sick. Whereas my son got sick fairly often. But this cant be tracked to one thing or another. Bottom line, choice but in observing that the diseases being discussed are pretty much not around anymore, why? Vaccines perhaps? Choice to the people.

  7. So much for the “freedom” for which my Grandfathers and Father fought for in 2 ugly World Wars. Australia is supposed to be a bastion of the right to choose, not a dictatorship that kowtows to corporations and beholden Governments. My three (now mature) children were never vaccinated and have never been sick. How about someone reveals the statistics of kids who have bad reactions to vaccines, … and the ones who get sick anyway!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Become a supporter of The Echo

A note from the editorial team

Some of The Echo’s editorial team: journalists Paul Bibby and Aslan Shand, editor Hans Lovejoy, photographer Jeff Dawson and Mandy Nolan

The Echo has never underestimated the intelligence and passion of its readers. In a world of corporate banality and predictability, The Echo has worked hard for more than 30 years to help keep Byron and the north coast unique with quality local journalism and creative ideas. We think this area needs more voices, reasoned analysis and ideas than just those provided by News Corp, lifestyle mags, Facebook groups and corporate newsletters.

The Echo is one hundred per cent locally owned and one hundred per cent independent. As you have probably gathered from what is happening in the media industry, it is not cheap to produce a weekly newspaper and a daily online news service of any quality.

We have always relied entirely on advertising to fund our operations, but often loyal readers who value our local, independent journalism have asked how they could help ensure our survival.

Any support you can provide to The Echo will make an enormous difference. You can make a one-off contribution or a monthly one. With your help, we can continue to support a better informed local community and a healthier democracy for another 30 years.”

Echonetdaily is made possible by the support of all of our advertisers.