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Vaccination deniers told to disband

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The Senate has taken the rare step of urging an anti-vaccination group to disband, condemning its “harmful and unscientific” scare campaign that is helping undermine national immunisation rates.

All the major political parties last week threw their weight before an Australian Greens motion calling for the controversial Australian Vaccination Network to cease operations.

Greens Senator Dr Richard Di Natale said that, through unanimous support for the motion, the Senate was sending a clear message to the embattled group that they should “pack up and go home”.

Senator Di Natale said the AVN – which is fighting a rearguard action in NSW courts against State Government moves to force it to change its name – had been irresponsibly peddling misinformation around vaccines.

“I have had people contact me who have lost children to diseases that have a safe and effective vaccine,” he said. “Well-meaning parents are being fed dangerous misinformation which undermines their faith in the safety of vaccines. This has to stop.”

Governments have been galvinised into action following evidence that vaccination rates in pockets of the community – including in well-to-do areas of eastern Sydney – have dipped well below 90 per cent among older children, creating conditions conducive to a sustained outbreak of serious diseases such as measles.

This is despite overwhelming scientific evidence of the efficacy of vaccination.

Eminent immunologist Professor Christopher Parish of the John Curtin School of Medical Research said last week that vaccinations had proven to be a “remarkably effective way” of protecting people against infections.

Professor Parish cited long-term population health data from the United States showing that between the pre-World War Two period and 1996 there had been near 100 per cent declines in the incidence of major diseases including diphtheria, measles, rubella, pertussis and polio because of the advent of vaccines.

A meeting of the country’s health ministers last month discussed a number of proposals to boost child immunisation rates, including a requirement that parents show proof of immunisation status before enrolment in schools or child care, education campaigns and the referral of children not fully immunised to GPs for catch-up vaccinations.

This follows the introduction in New South Wales in May of significant new laws under which parents or guardians trying to enrol children in childcare will be required to provide evidence that their child has been fully vaccinated, is on a recognised vaccination catch-up schedule, or has a doctor-approved exemption on personal, philosophical, medical or religious grounds.

And, under tough new rules that come into effect from today, parents will only be eligible for a child care rebate where their child has been fully immunised, or has an exemption on religious grounds (as a practising member of the Church of Christ, Scientist) or because of exceptional circumstances.

Parents have been warned to check their child’s immunisation status, with new rules coming into effect from today requiring that they have received an additional two meningitis vaccines – meningococcal C and pneumococcal – before they can be considered fully immunised and qualify for government benefits.