The Immunisation and Vaccination debate has hit epic emotional heights recently. Here's what you need to know.
What is Immunisation?
Immunisation is a preventative measure. It is the process of protecting people against harmful infections before they can come into contact with them. Immunisation is the term used to describe the administration of a vaccine and the subsequent immunisation against the disease, as a result of the vaccine.
Our natural immune system is a complex and clever thing – but it can only do so much to defend our bodies against illness. Comprised of specialized chemicals and cells that are triggered to fight infection when it attacks, our natural immune system can fight various viruses, germs, and bacteria’s. The immune system then stores this battle in a type of ‘memory’ bank so that next time it is experiences the symptoms of that infection, it can fight it off immediately.
However, the immune system can only fight off so much alone, and most notably in newborns, it is not strong enough to defend itself against new forms of bacteria, germs and viruses. “Immunisations are an extremely safe and effective way to stop your children from catching preventable infections,” says Dr Brad Mckay, Sydney-based Family Doctor. “Parents usually don't want their child to catch Polio, Measles or Mumps,” he continues. “It's important to protect your kids.”
When Is Immunisation Essential?
From birth until teenage years, the Immunisation schedule in Australia covers a variety of vaccinations against diseases including Hepatitis B (at birth), Pneumococcal, Measles, Influenza and chickenpox. Delaying vaccines is strongly believed to leave children vulnerable to catching diseases. “Everybody lives in a community and we have a responsibility to others. It is important to protect our own children and protect other children around us from getting a fatal or disabling disease,” says Dr Brad.
What is a Vaccine?
Vaccines trick the immune system into responding to a specific virus or bacteria, without actually infecting the body. This is done via the introduction of inactivated germs and toxins and surface molecules from - and weakened versions of - a germ.
The most historically notable example immunization is the eradication of smallpox, eliminated globally due to enough people being immunized, and therefore the infection no longer being able to spread from person to person. Cases of Polio have also been widely erased thanks to immunization. This success still excites medical experts, including Dr Brad. “Polio is a terrible infection that can cause life-long pain syndromes, can leave people paralysed and can kill,” he says. “There are only a handful of countries left in the world with polio and I'm thankful that I haven't seen a new case in my whole career. I'm excited about the vaccination program being used in an international effort to nearly eradicate polio from around the world. “
Why The Debate?
“Vaccination campaigns have been so successful that we no longer see these horrible diseases in everyday life,” says Dr Brad. “Unfortunately since these infections are not in the public eye, we tend to start questioning whether we really need to be immunised any more. The anti-vaccination movement is now driven by unsubstantiated fears rather than fear of the infections that immunisations prevent,” he cautions.
Some parents are concerned about the safety of vaccines, either due to religious or personal beliefs. However there has been no link established between immunisation and any of the preconceived side-effects, including autism, diabetes and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS.) Extensive and well documented research has been undertaken into this topic and – generally speaking - reactions to immunisation are mild and treatable.
What is the Law?
Despite the evidence supporting the ability of immunisation to erase illness on a large scale, rates of immunisation in Australian children are dropping. Current laws don’t prohibit families with children from receiving annual childcare rebates and other benefits if they have personal or religious objections against immunisation. But this may soon change with Prime Minister Tony Abbott indicating these rules would be tightened to form a ‘no jab, no play’ policy, with only a very small number of families exempted (based on religion).
If parents do seek a religious exemption, eligibility will be stringent, and is not in any way supported by Australian Government. Says Prime Minister Abbott on the topic; ‘"The choice made by families not to immunise their children is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of childcare payments.”