Crackpot anti-vaxxers have no right to object

A couple of years ago a planned family holiday became derailed by the 11th-hour realisation that I hadn't lined up anyone to look after our two dogs.

I rang the boarding kennels near the airport and asked if I could get the pooches in at short notice. Sure, they explained, provided their vaccinations were up to date. Not a problem.

Umm, actually let me check that. I rang the vet and she said that, as it turned out, they were due for their latest vaccines earlier that month.

The vet could get them in for their shots the following day, but when I rang the kennels back, they explained they could not take pets that had not been vaccinated a full week prior so the medicine had time to kick in.

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Tough but fair. You don't want to go infecting other people's pets.

Last week we got a letter home from our kids' childcare centre. It explained that the State Government's new immunisation rules take effect from January next year. Under the rules, childcare centres must collect evidence of the current immunisation status of all children enrolled.

The information must be provided at the time of enrolment, and again within two months of the child's scheduled immunisations when they turn six months old, 12 months old, 18 months old and four years old. The only evidence childcare centres are able to accept are the official statements from the Australian Immunisation Register.

 

It all sounds quite strict, and rightly so. We are talking about our children's collective safety - our own children and everyone else's. As any scientist will tell you, there should be no exemptions from the immunisation program lest we witness the return of diseases that once routinely killed children, and adults, in their millions.

Further down the letter from the childcare centre I noticed this sentence: "Families of children who are not immunised are asked to provide evidence of either a medical exemption or conscientious objection."

It's an interesting form of words, "conscientious objection", to describe the practice of endangering the lives of your own children and others by defying the full weight of medical wisdom.

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My understanding of the concept is that conscientious objections have always related to political events or government policies that could be regarded as contestable.

The Vietnam War is the obvious example. Both the governments of the US and Australia held that the war in Vietnam was a war against expansionist communism.

Others argued that it was nothing of the sort and that the Vietnamese simply wanted the right to self-determination.

On that basis, many would-be conscripts refused to fight. In a similar spirit, the resolutely pacifist Quakers attempted to win an exemption from paying the proportion of tax that is devoted to defence spending, in keeping with their conviction that no problem cannot be solved through dialogue.

 

These are things you can argue the toss about. Immunisation is not.

There is nothing contestable about the importance of vaccinating your kids. There is not a single credible mainstream scientist in the world who argues that on safety grounds the vaccination program must be ignored.

If you want to see what the end result of thumbing your nose at science looks like, the Pacific nation of Samoa is a miserable case in point, where the death toll rose to 70 this week from a measles epidemic that is wholly attributable to baseless fears on the island around immunisations.

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The sick thing is that these fears are peddled by organisations that often sound credible - and are recklessly given a platform to peddle their dangerous garbage by Facebook - meaning that uneducated or vulnerable people can be frightened out of protecting their own kids.

It is totally unacceptable that parents are being allowed to opt out of vaccination on the spurious grounds of conscientious objection.

In scientific terms it makes as much sense as letting people register a complaint against the drinking of water on the grounds that they don't subscribe to the theory of dehydration. All the science supports it.

For all the hoopla surrounding their introduction, the new childcare vaccination arrangements in South Australia are actually weak. By letting parents opt out, they are being allowed to endanger their kids, and others, while forcing the 95 per cent of caring and thinking parents to faff around with paperwork that merely demonstrates they are doing the right thing.

Absolutely nobody can contest vaccinating their kids anymore. Picture: istock
Absolutely nobody can contest vaccinating their kids anymore. Picture: istock

The counterargument of course is that it's unfair to punish the children by precluding them from daycare or kindergarten.

The moral weight of that sad outcome shouldn't rest with the vast majority of us in sensible society. It should rest with the dopey and/or irresponsible parents who think they know more than centuries of collective scientific knowledge, who should have to bear responsibility for the homeschooling of their children on safety grounds.

One of the more absurd things I have seen in a while was a group of anti-vaxxers who launched a social media campaign last week in solidarity with the people of Samoa. These crackpots amassed dozens of jars of vitamins to send to Samoa to help the islanders cope with the measles outbreak.

RELATED: Samoan families torn apart as measles epidemic kills children

The children of Samoa don't need vitamins. They did need vaccinations.

The new laws in SA might have the added benefit of serving to remind parents to keep their children's vaccines up to date. But they are far weaker than the laws in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, where parents of unvaccinated children are prevented from sending them to kindy or childcare.

Labor has been pushing for it here, and Health Minister Stephen Wade has indicated he will look at it. But as long as SA tolerates the folly of conscientious objection, it is a statement of fact that we do a much more vigilant job in this state of kennelling our dogs than caring for our children.

This is my final column for the year. Thank you for reading, and have a peaceful and happy Christmas.

@penbo



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