IN the 1950s, if a person developed acute flaccid paralysis it created fear and apprehension in the neighbourhood, as everyone knew that this condition could be permanent and occasionally life-threatening.
It also meant that the infectious polio virus was active, possibly in the local neighbourhood.
Communities faced similar apprehension when there were cases of diphtheria and acute meningitis, as both were recognised as being infectious, dangerous and sometimes fatal. Other infectious diseases such as mumps were considered painful and unpleasant, and measles, chickenpox, and rubella were a part of growing up and virtually unavoidable.
Today parents do not see polio, diphtheria or most of these infectious diseases as a result of effective immunisation programs.
Older clinicians who had dealt with these diseases felt — correctly — that with the welcome preventive success of immunisation, many parents would become blasé and not realise that such diseases could return if high immunisation rates were not maintained.
Last year, MJA InSight published my article titled “Why we immunise”, which explained the terrible consequences for children who had these vaccine preventable diseases.
The complacency that doctors predicted many years ago is now happening. As discussed in my previous article, an added problem is that doctors today are graduating without the ability to recognise some of these diseases, such as measles.
While most parents do respond positively to objective data on the protective efficacy of available vaccines, small groups of chronic sceptics opposed to immunisation persist and they seem quite impervious to such information, however eloquently it may be presented.
The only approach likely to be effective is an emotional one — show them what these diseases actually look like in living breathing colour and sound, and what they can do to young children.
In the early 1990s, to show parents the consequences of some vaccine preventable infectious diseases, a short video recording was made for distribution to nursing sisters in child care and antenatal clinics.
Costs of production were underwritten and several thousand copies were sent around Australia for free. Demand was so high further copies had to be supplied.
That video is now available online — click here to watch it. I know of no more convincing argument for the importance of immunisation.
Changes have been made to the National Immunisation Program Schedule since this video was produced and this is noted in the online version. More extensive video clips are available for those interested.
Perhaps doctors could offer to show the video to parents with doubts about immunisation and ask the question, “would you let your child suffer like this?”
Professor Clem Boughton is Emeritus Professor at the University of NSW and was formerly chairman and senior physician at the Division of Infectious Diseases at Prince Henry Hospital, Sydney.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: The public education video titled "Protect your baby for life", which briefly profiled particular infectious diseases so parents were better informed about immunising their children, was made possible by Professor Boughton and his colleagues from the Department of Infectious Diseases, Prince Henry and Prince of Wales Hospitals and the University of NSW. The Sydney School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame Australia, digitised the video so that it can be accessed online. Permissions were granted by the patients and/or their parents featured in the video.