The issue of vaccination has become incredibly polarised, leading to a battle to the death between the pro-vaccination and anti-vaccination extremists. This makes it very difficult for parents to make informed choices about vaccination for their own children, and assessing the changing risks and benefits of vaccination over time.
The new No Jab, No Pay legislation, and the proposed No Jab, No Play to prevent unvaccinated children from attending preschool or kindergarten have escalated this issue especially for those without the income or resources to manage without the Family Tax Benefit or subsidy for childcare. The legislation is discriminatory and unfair in many ways, in my opinion.
Public health authorities have the responsibility of initiating programmes to prevent disease in the population at large, and the choices are often based on a risk: benefit ratio for the most vulnerable in the community – the poorest, sickest, least educated and those without access to high quality medical care.
Parents make decisions for their own children every moment of every day based on their instincts honed by evolution over hundreds of millennia. Mothers especially feel concerns about the wisdom of schedules of vaccinations, and over half of Australian mothers have concerns about vaccine safety. Most of those mothers go on to vaccinate their children despite their reservations.
In my view, there are sensible arguments for and against vaccination, and these need to be discussed outside that polarised debate raging between the pro- and anti- groups.
The issues that deserve consideration include so-called "herd immunity" and social obligations surrounding vaccination, age-shifting of diseases from simple childhood illness to more serious adult illness, the whooping cough vaccine failure suggesting new vaccine-resistant strains of pertussis, and variations on the schedule of vaccines for children who have already missed some vaccinations.
I appreciate how politically charged the issue of vaccination has become, and the levels to which members of the medical and scientific community have stooped to silence voices opposing vaccination. I do not oppose vaccination. I oppose the view that there can be no argument against vaccination, and I trust the instinct of parents when they voice their concerns.
I am also aware that many doctors refuse in principle to sign forms of conscientious objection to vaccination by parents, even after they have counselled them. I do not regard this as ethical, but that is a personal opinion.
I provide a one-hour consultation, preferably with both parents present, and attempt to address all issues and concerns in a balanced and informative way. I address the low risk of adverse reactions to vaccines, the low risk of catching vaccine-preventable diseases even without vaccination, and low risk of extreme negative outcomes should their (vaccinated or unvaccinated) child catch the disease. I address maternal immunity for protecting babies in the first year of life, and the attention they need to pay to diseases that may re-emerge in the future should they decide not to vaccinate their child.
The majority of parents with whom I discuss vaccination choose to vaccinate either fully or partially, whatever their prior position had been.
I do not provide vaccinations in my medical practice because I do not have the facilities, processes and skills required to administer vaccines safely and effectively.
My first child was vaccinated at the two-month mark, and none of my three daughters have been vaccinated since that day thirty five years ago.