We were proud and pleased to be asked to give evidence to the Senate hearing regarding the Federal ‘no jab no pay’ legislation.
This is a transcript of our statement, presented on November 2nd.
Thank you for inviting us here today. We are here representing the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters, an unfunded community advocacy group formed in 2013 as a result of concerns that we live in the region with Australia’s lowest vaccination rates. Just under half of children aged 5 are fully vaccinated in Mullumbimby- so the national average of over 90% vaccination coverage is pretty much irrelevant in pockets like ours.
We are in support of the proposed legislation for a number of reasons but also have a couple of concerns about it that we would like to share.
Vaccinations don’t only protect individuals, they also protect communities, and we see vaccinating as a social responsibility. It protects children and other members of society who are vulnerable to infectious disease such as babies too young to be vaccinated, the elderly, people with legitimate medical exemptions who cannot be vaccinated and immune suppressed people such as cancer patients.
Childcare facilities are where children are in close proximity with each other for extended periods of time, putting them at greater risk of contagious disease; this is even more concerning if a number of children there are not vaccinated, as the diseases potentially being shared can be very dangerous. We see it as particularly fitting, then, that the proposed legislation focuses on withholding a government subsidy that helps parents of unvaccinated children send their kids to attend childcare facilities.
We have heard one of the main concerns is that parents’ choices are being taken away from them if this legislation is passed. Our view is that parents do in fact still have a choice, but that choice not to vaccinate will now come with a consequence. It is the parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, NOT this legislation, that will be disadvantaging their children and endangering the community.
Is the legislation coercive? Yes, but not unjustly so. In our region, our group has had an impact on some members of the community, but vaccination rates remain dangerously low and we need a stronger incentive for people to vaccinate. We believe that both a carrot and a stick approach are needed- we think that there needs to be more targeted educational campaigns and awareness raised, and any access issues addressed, but we also need consequences for those who make choices that put others at risk. This is a public health issue. There are consequences for speeding, and for drink driving; surely there should also be consequences if your actions leave the vulnerable at risk of preventable infectious disease.
The impact of pockets of low vaccination rates on the incidence of disease must be considered, as babies and other vulnerable people are going to continue to get sick and die if something is not done. As you may be aware, Malakai Cockroft, Kailis Smith, Dana McCafferey and Riley Hughes all passed away from whooping cough, all too young to be vaccinated, and all from areas with dangerously low vaccination rates. There was no community immunity to shield them. And as another example, one of the members of our group has a little girl who contracted whooping cough at a day care centre after an unvaccinated child attended with whooping cough. This little girl now suffers from a condition called bronchiectasis, which leaves her with lifelong lung damage. She is another example of how this legislation can, in the future, prevent this from happening to other children.
We’d also like to point out that anecdotally, this proposed legislation is already having a positive effect in our region. We have had vaccine hesitant parents approach our group seeking more information about vaccination as a direct result of it, and they have told us that they are reconsidering their stance. Local immunisation providers have also reported similar stories.
One concern we do have specific for our region, is that many people have an alternative health care provider rather than a GP as their primary health care practitioner. This is problematic for a number of reasons. It means that our notification rates of vaccine preventable diseases may in fact be significantly underreported; people are not being diagnosed or referred on by alternative health care practitioners, and notifications to Public Health may not be happening. In addition, many receive unproven remedies and ineffective ‘alternative vaccination’ options such as homeopathy, foregoing proven preventative medicine, effective, evidence based treatments, and potentially remaining infectious for longer.
As a result of all this, we have parents in our group who are too frightened to take their babies out in public. We have mothers not joining mothers groups, missing out on those valuable social interactions and support groups. Just yesterday a local dad contacted us who is putting the family home on the market to move from the area because they can no longer cope with the prevailing sentiment regarding vaccination and the various conspiracy theories surrounding the issue. We have parents contact us who have been told by other mums that vaccines cause autism, or shaken baby syndrome. Doctors, midwives and alternative health care practitioners in our region give conflicting advice, leaving parents to wonder what the best thing is to do for their baby. Vaccination, as you may have seen online, has been equated to rape, or said to be a government agenda to pander to pharmaceutical companies, or as a form of population control. The fear mongering is relentless here. We are fighting an uphill battle for our community, and thus far there’s been little research done into our region as to what approaches may help people gain confidence in the vaccination schedule, or in how to stop the relentless tide of misinformation.
To help counter these issues, in addition to this legislation, we would propose an annual reminder system linked to the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register in order to keep lines of communication open with vaccine hesitant parents. We’d also like to see the money saved from this legislation go towards targeted education campaigns and research, particularly into unique demographics like ours.
One last concern is the probability of vaccine refusers forming unregistered casual childcare alliances, exposing the children and the wider community to outbreaks of preventable disease. We would welcome any measures to have regulatory processes in place for such instances.
In conclusion, we do support this legislation, as we believe that it will protect those who have no choice, especially those kids in childcare who are vaccinated, but continually exposed to disease that should be relegated to the history books by now, the young, the elderly, and those too sick to be vaccinated themselves. Those are the people that deserve our protection.