Vaccinations debate gets a shot in the arm
One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has sparked outrage and ignited a fresh debate over vaccinations by saying the Government was blackmailing parents into immunising their children.
Reinforcing her belief that vaccinations have links to autism and can cause other ill effects, Senator Hanson suggested parents have their children tested first to determine if they will react adversely to the shots.
“I’ve heard from parents and their concerns about it and what I have said is I advise parents to go out and do their own research with regards to this,” she told the ABC’s Insiders program.
“Look, there is enough information out there. No-one is going to care any more about the child than the parents themselves. Make an informed decision.
“What I don’t like about it is the blackmailing that’s happening with the Government. Don’t do that to people. That’s a dictatorship. I think people have a right to investigate themselves. If having vaccinations and measles vaccinations is actually going to stop these diseases, fine, no problems.
“Some of these – parents are saying – vaccinations have an effect on some children. Go and have your tests first. You can have a test on your child first.
“Have a test and see if you don’t have a reaction to it first. Then you can have the vaccination. I hear from so many parents. Where are their rights? Why aren’t you prepared to listen to them? Why does it have to be one way?”
Senator Hanson did not stipulate what test she was referring to and some days later apologised, saying she was wrong about it.
She has also stated that her comments were only a personal opinion and admitted that she had had her own children vaccinated.
But she maintains her distaste for the current Government policy to withhold some welfare payments and childcare fee rebates from parents who don’t fully immunise their children.
“I’m not saying to people don’t get your children vaccinated. I’m not a medical professional” she said while campaigning in the WA State election.
“I had my children vaccinated. I never told my children not to get their children vaccinated. All I’m saying is get your advice.”
Her initial remarks, however, have caused a backlash from a host of experts, commentators and politicians – including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“If parents choose not to vaccinate their children, they are putting their children’s health at risk and every other person’s children’s health at risk too,” Mr Turnbull said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt described Senator Hanson’s comments as “incorrect in fact” and not what a Member of Parliament should be making.
He also acknowledged that the so-called No Jab, No Pay policy is a strong and tough policy, but one he backed 100 per cent.
“I take a very clear, strong view of this. Vaccination is fundamental to protecting not just our own children, but everybody else’s children,” Mr Hunt said.
“There are decades and decades of different sources of evidence and practise and simply reduced incidences of conditions such as mumps and measles, rubella, whooping cough.
“So the evidence is clear, overwhelming and very broadly accepted.”
The AMA has provided much of that evidence over a long period of time.
Responding to Senator Hanson’s controversial remarks, AMA President Dr Michael Gannon praised the national immunisation program.
“The false claims, the mistruths, the lies that you can find on the internet are of a great concern to doctors,” Dr Gannon said.
“The national immunisation program is a triumph. There is good news in this story – 95 per cent of one-year-olds in Australia are fully vaccinated, 93 per cent of five-year-olds are fully vaccinated.
“But we know that a lot of parents are doing this with some reservations, and that’s of great concern.
“The person to give you the most accurate information about the benefits of vaccination to allay your concerns is your local immunisation provider. In many cases, that’s your family GP.
“I can assure you that there is some absolutely galling rubbish available to parents on the internet.
“They need to be taught how to find credible sources of information. Anything which weakens this most important of public health measures really needs to be stepped on.”
Meanwhile, a new national survey has revealed that health care providers are refusing to treat one in six children who are not up to date with their vaccinations.
The sixth Australian Child Health Poll was conducted and released by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne and published in March under the title Vaccination: Perspectives of Australian Parents.
It also found that 95 per cent of parents kept their children up to date with vaccines, but that almost a third of parents held concerns about vaccination safety.
Dr Gannon labelled it an interesting and important study.
“It refers to health care providers. I would be surprised if we were talking about doctors. It’s not ethical to deny treatment to unvaccinated children,” he said.
“I suspect we would hear many, many complaints if this was the fact, that these were doctors refusing to treat these kids.
“Certainly legally they can refuse treatment, but ethically they shouldn’t. Parents who deny their children the individual benefits of vaccination against preventable and infectious disease are already doing their child a disservice. Doctors would not seek to enhance that disadvantage.
“This study is a good news story in many ways. It shows the overwhelming support that the vaccination program enjoys amongst Australian parents.”
Director of the Child Health Poll, paediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes, said the survey suggested a worrying pattern of practice not previously identified in Australia.
“All children, regardless of their vaccination status, have an equal right to health care,” Dr Rhodes said.