LIV Gray is no hippie. She doesn't wear flowers in her hair, she doesn't dabble in drugs and there isn't even a smidgen of tie-dye in her wardrobe. 

She doesn't listen to psychedelic rock, doesn't go around spruiking free love and there isn't a dreadlock in sight.

Liv Gray is no idealist. There is no incense burning in her home, she doesn't spend her days writing non-sensical poetry and there are only a handful of sprouts in her refrigerator.

No, Liv Gray is no hippie.

By all accounts she is a loving partner and mother, a warm and reliable friend and a woman who easily shows kindness to strangers. She is intelligent and university-educated, she is serious and funny, quick-witted and slow to anger.

Liv Gray believes in free choice and free speech, in showing compassion and turning the other cheek.

She doesn't believe in vaccines.

Liv and her partner have chosen to keep their two girls, aged 4 and 1, off the vaccination schedule prescribed for all Australian children.

Their girls have never smelt the antiseptic wafting through an immunisation room, never felt that pinprick followed by the tightening of their mother's arms, their standard-issue red books gathering dust in some long-forgotten bottom draw.

The latest study produced by the National Health Performance Authority shows that almost 77,000 Australian children are not fully immunised.

While the rates of immunisation continue to be low in areas like North Coast NSW, Eastern Sydney and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland which have traditionally been favoured by conscientious objectors, there are now large pockets of people in affluent suburbs of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane who are not joining the vaccination schedule.

The last few years has seen a clear rise in non-participation from middle-class professionals so much so that in 32 of the statistical areas investigated by the study, the percentage of fully immunised children for at least one age group was 85% or lower.

The World Health Organisation says anything below 95% is unsafe.

It is parents like Liv, says the Australian Medical Association, who, for want of a better phrase "should know better", that are putting the lives of children, the infirm and the elderly at risk by choosing not to vaccinate.

"These are parents who have good information available and yet they are not vaccinating their children," said Dr Steve Hambleton, president of the AMA, when the report was published.

"We need to look at the groups providing the anti-vaccination messages and make sure we stop them providing unbalanced information. We need to say to those parents 'you need to get balanced information, protect your children and we need to do better'."

But Liv Gray sees it differently.

"Before I had children I always thought that immunisation was something we would do," she said.

"But once our first came along, we started asking questions about the vaccines to doctors and to everyone we knew and weren't really happy with the answers.

"We know of kids who have had bad reactions to the injections which have resulted in long-term issues. Maybe it was coincidence but we didn't want to take the chance.

"We read books and magazines about the pros and cons and finally decided that although there may be some health benefits for vaccination we were going to give our girls some time to allow their bodies to develop its natural immunity.

"Maybe in the future if we move to a remote area and are not near good medical facilities then we may reconsider. But for now we are happy we have made the right choice."

Vaccines work by introducing a dead or weakened version of the disease-causing organism to the body's immune system.

If the immune system subsequently encounters the "real" disease-causing germ it can fight it off with a rapid effective response.

Governments, scientists, academics and healthcare professionals swear by them pointing out that vaccines provide unparalleled levels of protection with the World Health Organisation estimating that some three million lives are saved each year through the control and eradication of diseases.

Thus far vaccines have been credited with the elimination of smallpox which until the late 1960s still threatened 60% of people around the world and the eradication of polio which killed thousands and left so many more with horrible disabilities.

There has been great success too with measles, diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis and tetanus and more recently with rotavirus and pneumococcal disease.

The thing about vaccines, say immunisation specialists, is that they only work productively within the confines of herd immunity.

If less than 93-95% of the population in an area is immunised then disease has a platform to dominate, and places those who are resistant to vaccines, those with auto-immune dysfunction, the elderly and babies too young to vaccinate at undue risk.

According to Dr Hambelton it is low vaccination rates that result in the outbreaks of measles and pertussis (whooping cough) which have been seen in parts of New South Wales and south east Queensland in recent months.

"It is no coincidence that these outbreaks have been in pockets where immunisation rates are falling," he said.

"Generally speaking measles tends to come from overseas, but it won't spread unless there is susceptible population and in both those areas, there is susceptible population.

"People have forgotten about the devastating effects of diseases like mumps and measles. That's probably one reason they are willing to take chances."

Anti-vaccination campaigners are unmoved saying that vaccines are made from toxins and chemicals which do more harm than good.

It is their belief that, if at all, vaccines only boost our defences temporarily, that herd immunity is no more than a hypothesis and that diseases like smallpox and polio were on the decline before the introduction of jabs to combat them.

Those that contest the safety of vaccines are adamant there exists a link with autism saying that the number of vaccinations demanded in childhood is simply too overwhelming for such young bodies.

There is little doubt that anti-immunisation groups like the misleadingly-named Australian Vaccination Network with their grandstanding, rhetoric and the lack of compassion shown by former leader Meryl Dorey following the death of baby Dana McCaffery to pertussis, is doing few favours for parents who do not wish to join their circus but who still want to make their own choices.

But immunisation experts, desperate to keep the rate at a safe level, will fail to sway the middle-class objectors by referring to them as the "baby Einstein demographic" pointing to an avid interest in their children's development and a penchant to go organic and embrace alternative therapies as one of the reasons for the problem.

Dr Hambelton has been quoted as saying that chiropractors and alternative therapists are misleading parents but with a large percentage of Australians, both those who choose to immunise and those who don't, using the services of chiropractors and naturopaths for much more than immunisation advice, it would be ill-advised to use an argument that will alienate them.

Governments at both national and state level are adding momentum to their drive for comprehensively vaccinated communities by stepping up information initiatives and by withholding family tax benefits.

In New South Wales childcare centres are required to ask for proof of vaccination when children enrol. Childcare centres which fail to so and are found out face fines of $4000.

Centres in Queensland are not required to do so at present but that could change.

"The department is committed to giving serious consideration to any initiative proven to increase immunisation coverage rates," said a Queensland Health spokesman.

"In the case of requiring documentation of vaccination status at school entry, this consideration would include monitoring the situation in NSW and would also need to include the potential impact on parents and the education sector."

Whether you believe in the benefit of vaccines to your person and community or whether you believe in the body's ability to find its own level of protection, the issue of immunisation has become a polarising one.

Whatever your choice it should be an informed one.

Chiropractors and Natural Therapists are unable to comment as per their Code of Conduct.


GP's view - Dr Scott Parsons, General Practitioner Sunshine Coast 

Dr Scott Parsons
Dr Scott Parsons john mccutcheon

It is astonishing to those of us that work with children that 

there is even a debate on vaccination.

But somehow the vaccination rates in some parts of Australia are appallingly low.

The concerning aspect is that many of those choosing not to vaccinate are the educated middle class.

This group will claim to have "done their research" which begs the question: What does this exactly mean?

Not vaccinating has almost become trendy, with facebook posts, and online discussions, sowing seeds of doubt in those who felt they had done the right thing.

These parents are seduced by sensational anti-vaccination websites which use emotion, outlandish claims and dubious data to garner support.

Getting advice regarding vaccines from those who have no training in medicine, is equivalent to me getting financial advice from a gardener.

The media have not helped over the years by their so called "responsible reporting".

By giving both "sides" of the argument, this has inadvertently legitimised the anti-vaccination stance.

Do we give equal billing to those who believe the Earth is flat versus those who believe it is round?

Vaccine side effects are minimised as much as possible.

Recently, the polio vaccine was changed from oral drops to the injected form. Why?

Because the drops had the potential to cause polio in one to two children every decade in Australia, whereas the injectable form had no risk.

This is the kind of risk analysis shows that there is no "hidden agenda" or data corruption.

Leave that to conspiracy theorists.

Analysing some of these myths should be part of "doing research".

For instance the claim that we only vaccinate against diseases that have virtually disappeared. This is untrue.

Vaccination also protects against commonly encountered bacteria such as tetanus, pneumococcus, and pertussis (whooping cough).

The recent deaths of newborns in Australia have underlined how prevalent pertussis is in the community.

At present the vaccine we have, though not ideal, is far better than returning to the years where one infant a week died from whooping cough.

Another myth is that vaccination weakens the immune system.

What does this actually mean?

To weaken an immune response would suggest that the ability to mount an immune reaction has somehow been compromised.

There is no scientific evidence either epidemiologically or laboratory wise to support this claim.

The majority of parents 'trust the system' and are happy to vaccinate.

A minority will be almost fundamentalist in their views against vaccination, and this is unfortunate.

For those who 'want to do their own research' look at the diseases, their incidence, the effectiveness of the vaccinations, the risks, and be cynical and skeptical of anecdotes, unproven statements and websites that have no supporting evidence.

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