Measles Scare: Time To Crack Down On Vaccine Refusers

THE LATEST THREAT of a massive public measles exposure — this time at Melbourne’s Chadstone Shopping Centre, for goodness’ sake — signals time to crack down once and for all on so-called “conscientious” objectors to vaccination; these people are a risk to the general population, and whilst new policy initiatives are welcome, they do not go anywhere near far enough. It is time to stop messing around with a dangerous public health menace.

It isn’t often that I advocate the total removal of choice for individuals, with an absolute zero-tolerance approach to enforcement; the growing problem of outright refusal by some people to vaccinate their children is an exception I am happy to make, however: the alternative is a resurgence in diseases that have been all but eradicated, and measles is simply the thin edge of the wedge.

I’m not going to make any apologies for being blunt about this, or for not mincing my words; the anti-vaccine lobby is an insidious public health menace, propped up and actively supported by so-called “conscientious objectors” whose actions (or in this case, lack of action) have the capacity to endanger thousands of others at a stroke.

And frankly — as a parent of two fully immunised children — to hell with the alleged special circumstances of their own dear brats by which they attempt to justify the unjustifiable.

To my mind, the news that a measles-infected man wandered around Chadstone Shopping Centre for three hours on Boxing Day — represents the point at which a line must be drawn, and for government in this country to decree that enough is enough: we’re not talking about a visit to the corner shop here, not that that would be acceptable in the circumstances, either: this is the largest shopping centre in Australia on the busiest retail trading day of the year.

This year, 100,000 people flocked to Chadstone on Boxing Day: almost certainly, a large number of these people will have been visiting from interstate or overseas; almost certainly, therefore, someone exposed to the man mentioned in news reports today will have spread the disease beyond Chadstone, beyond Melbourne, and beyond Victoria — where it can percolate and spread in another community altogether.

This is how mass epidemics of disease begin, and with Australia’s overall vaccination rates falling — largely thanks to the efforts of the so-called Australian Vaccination Network, and other enemies of the public good like them — diseases that should have been all but wiped out of existence in Australia are beginning to find fresh footholds in the broader population.

To some extent, it doesn’t really matter where this particular infection source originated; the report I’ve shared here talks about a dance competition in NSW about a month ago; sooner or later, the availability of a colossal population of prospective virus hosts ¬†(which is what the 100,000 at Chadstone represents) is going to intersect with that infection as it spreads — and when that occurs, the illness may spread like wildfire.

It’s the same principle that people in Brisbane often describe, when they talk about the “Ekka” — Brisbane’s annual show — signalling the start of the `flu season every year. A highly contagious virus and a huge body of people for it to circulate among in a very short period of time.

And make no mistake, measles is infectious.

Whilst most people recover fully, complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis make this a vicious disease that must be stamped out at all costs, and a horrible way to die for a small number of the unfortunate people who experience them.

Fears over the safety of the MMR vaccine predominantly used in Australia and elsewhere in the world may — may — have justified reticence around that particular vaccine for a time. Even so, separate vaccines for measles and rubella have always been available, and in any case, the British scientist whose research established the “link” between MMR has long been discredited, his thesis that MMR causes Autism disproven, and his professional reputation deservedly ruined.

The MMR debacle, however, has had effects that have lingered well beyond the debunking of the myth surrounding it, and these will in all likelihood continue to do so: fodder nonetheless, if dubious, for the likes of the Australian Vaccination Network to scare the bejeesus out of anyone stupid or scared enough to listen to it.

I read recently that the vaccination rates for Australian children now sits at about 85%; the vaccination strategy in place within Australia’s health networks relies on a principle called herd immunity — which, to be effective, requires vaccination rates of about 94% or higher.

Vaccination rates are as low as 43% in some areas on the northern NSW coast; and before anyone suggests Byron Bay/Nimbin etc can be excused on the basis they’re full of hippies, druggies, alternative lifestyles and so forth, I would simply point out these people don’t have any trouble putting their hand out when they want something — and so they should be prepared to accept the responsibility along with the benefits.

Part of the problem derives from so-called conscientious objectors, whose selfish arguments boil down to the fact that whilst all medicines — including vaccines — carry risks, their cavalier position is that these risks should be taken by everyone else except for them and their own children.

I have no time for this mentality, the eventual consequences of which are a breakdown in herd immunity and outbreaks of diseases such as measles.

Aside from anything else, “conscientious” objectors are making decisions on behalf of their children they have no right to make, putting as they do the lives of those children at risk.

Indeed, there is ample evidence that many of these unvaccinated children aren’t even told of their status, and only find out in later life when they come down with something they should never have been put at risk of exposure to in the first place.

But all this pales into insignificance compared to the so-called Australian Vaccination Network, an organisation so named as to be deliberately misleading, and masquerading as a public health awareness service to boot.

Or rather, it was; the NSW Department of Fair Trading last year ordered this odious entity to find a new name, and its first “attempt” to do so — Australian Vaccination – Sceptics Network — isn’t much better. Happily, that was knocked back too. The attitude of some of its office bearers is quite telling, reeking of contempt for efforts to stop them peddling misinformation and risking public safety.

This organisation — call itself whatever it eventually will — promotes the “health benefits” of measles, when there are no known health benefits of measles.

One of the news reports I’ve linked to here notes they promote a product called¬†black salve as a cancer cure — to which I would respond that if it were anything of the kind, the medical and pharmaceutical professions would be all over it like a fly on a turd. They’re not.

Next it will be recommendations to hang wreaths off doors to ward off the plague…

And whilst measles and whooping cough — in most cases — might not be fatal to the bulk of unfortunate people who suffer them, if the next “nasty” to make a comeback was something like diphtheria or polio, it will make suffering measles or pertussis seem like a walk in the park: even if, of course, they are anything but.

I wonder how many fines of $500,000 per offence for deliberately false and misleading conduct it might take, theoretically, for the Australian Vaccination Network — or whatever it ends up calling itself (noting “Flat Earth Society” is already taken, but “Knuckledraggers Inc” might not be) — to come to its senses. Not many, I’d wager.

But back to where we began.

With measles having now verifiably been circulated at Chadstone on Boxing Day, it mandates a get-tough approach to a problem that will only worsen without it.

Already, whooping cough (pertussis) is at epidemic proportions in some parts of the country, and for largely the same reason measles is now becoming such a problem for public health officials.

I do make the point that some of these vaccinations wear off over time; and in any case, their efficacy is such that not every person vaccinated will receive the same immunological response.

These are simply more compelling reasons for vaccination to be universal in the first place; perhaps a public campaign for a program of booster vaccinations for young adults would represent judicious expenditure of government health monies.

But the real problem, to be sure, is with childhood vaccination — and ensuring it is universal.

I note the NSW government has introduced a “no jab, no play” law which came into effect on Wednesday, stipulating that children who have not been properly vaccinated cannot be allowed to attend kindergartens, preschools and the like.

The only exemptions are on religious or medical grounds. There is no tolerance for “conscientious” objectors. Those who have simply fallen behind on their vaccine schedule are excused only if they can show medical evidence they have commenced an immunisation schedule to bring their children up to date.

I don’t think this goes far enough.

I think — in addition to kindergarten — that school, too, should be banned for non-immunised parents; access to passports withdrawn; welfare payments to families with non-immunised children cancelled; and access to Medicare rebates suspended until vaccinations have been satisfactorily completed.

Any migrant or asylum seeker coming to Australia should be barred from doing so until they either produce evidence of a vaccination history, or undergo a full vaccination schedule prior to being permitted entry to this country.

And to be completely honest, given what’s at stake, I don’t really have much truck with “religious exemptions” either: with no disrespect intended to those whose faith might preclude them from vaccination, their kids are just as much a target for lethal diseases as anyone else, and are every bit as likely, in probability, to contract them.

Zero tolerance, I say. Time to crack down on the scourge of anti-immunisation idiots, for their own good as much as for the protection of those with a little more sense. And without a genuine, valid medical pretext for abstention, that should include everybody: no ifs, no buts.