Vaccine complacency is a luxury we do not have
IN this era of hypervigilant parenting, it astounds me that a deliberate and dangerous decision about a child's health would get any traction at all.
That's the charm of the committed anti vaxxers and their non-science agenda: to hell with vaccines, everyone else's children and the risks they will be exposed to.
But hypervigilant we must remain as responsible parents, a crucial mindset illustrated by new information this week about flu and preventable childhood diseases.
Only one in four young Aussie children aged six months to four years - our most vulnerable - were given the influenza vaccine this year even though flu season is its most lethal in 25 years.
Meanwhile the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that more than 41,000 children and adults in Europe had been infected with measles in the first six months of 2018. A sort of Australia "you have been warned" on the back of a massive spike in reported cases in Europe - there were 5273 cases in 2016.
The alarming rise there is likely caused by a mix of migrant displacement and also lingering but incorrect concerns about the MMR vaccine causing autism, Professor Julie Leask, a vaccine expert, told me this week. This is despite the universal condemnation of the so-called study linking the two after former UK doctor Andrew Wakefield connected the dots in 1998 between the standard MMR vaccine and the neurobehavioral disorder.
In 2010 his work was retracted because he fabricated huge chunks of research and also because it was bankrolled by parents suing vaccine manufacturers.
But the damage was done, particularly in the UK, the US and Ireland, which saw a decline in vaccination rates and a corresponding increase in the incidence of measles and mumps.
In Australia, we enjoy a 94 per cent vaccination rate among our children but to quote Professor Leask, a Senior Research Fellow at the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance, "we in Australia cannot drop the ball".
"We have to do all things we are doing to stay at 94 per cent", she warns, or else risk the next cohort of kids coming through for vaccines.
Complacency is a luxury we do not have.
But those diehard anti vaxxers will continue to push their message, evident with a recent case in WA of rogue billboards popping up outside childcare centres, launched by a Santa Barbara group no less.
The billboards asked: "Do you know what's in a vaccine?" plus the address for learntherisk.org, an anti-vaccination organisation based in the US.
This, of course, is the deliberately inflammatory website which, among other ludicrous claims, asserts that "vaccines contain multiple synthetic chemicals that should never be injected into the body and are part of the reason we have skyrocketing chronic health issues that have somehow become the new 'normal' in our society".
But it all drills back to the same question: what parent would refuse to protect their child from a disease that could kill them?
The Australian Government's Department of Health keeps track of all notifiable diseases through its National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. Anyone can access this information.
According to the figures accessed this week, there have been 5759 cases of whooping cough in Australia so far this year. This compares to 12,193 in 2017 and 20,099 in 2016.
The numbers are lower for measles - 63 cases so far this year, 81 in 2017 and 99 in 2016. Mumps numbers are higher - 500 so far this year, 811 cases in 2017 and 804 in 2016.
Nonetheless, whenever I see an anti-vaxxer given airtime for their "beliefs", I wonder this.
What of the true terror that comes from watching an infant struck down with pertussis, their tiny bodies heaving and shuddering with the effort of taking a single breath in between the hacking coughs that turn them blue.
Or in the case of measles, where complications are most common in the very young or chronically ill with the full impact unknown for years.
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, didn't mince her words this week.
"We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of (measles).
"We can stop this deadly disease. But we will not succeed unless everyone plays their part: to immunise their children, themselves, their patients, their populations - and also to remind others that vaccination saves lives," Dr Jakab said.
Even England has not escaped, with 807 cases of measles so far this year.
Dr Pauline Paterson from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: "With a vaccine preventable disease, one case is one too many, and the numbers of measles cases so far this year is astounding."
Sure, there are some parents who forget the vaccine schedule or have difficulty in getting to a doctor.
But I don't extend that sympathy to an anti vaxxer who cherry picks the data to suit their agenda.
Vaccinations are something we as a country should be protecting as vigilantly as we do our borders and our homes.
Hold the line and strengthen it and never ever underestimate the value of that little jab.