There is good news on the vaccine front out of Australia. This week, the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that parents who refuse to vaccinate their children will no longer be eligible to receive an end-of-the-year tax benefit.
This isn’t a giant change in policy, but it’s meaningful. Since last year, parents who don’t vaccinate their children have been excluded from this $726 per child benefit. However, parents who registered as “conscientious objectors” have received it.
No more, under the Australian government’s new policy. Now, only medical and religious exemptions will be allowed.
Ever since a now-discredited study was published linking the MMR vaccine to autism, there has been a backlash against immunization. The resistance to vaccines has gone world wide. This is important in an increasingly connected world. It may not seem like a big deal to get the measles vaccine in your particular locality. Maybe no one has had the disease for years. But if you travel around the world, or you come in contact with an infected tourist, things could get bad quickly.
In fact, that’s what happened in New South Wales just last year. According to the Government of Western Australia Department of Health:
A young adult returning home from overseas while infectious with measles caused the NSW outbreak in April. This person transmitted the virus to other susceptible contacts, which resulted in further clusters of cases in metropolitan Sydney.
In Australia, most measles cases occur in unvaccinated people who are infected overseas. However, most of the recent NSW cases had no history of overseas travel. This indicates the disease was spread within the local community to people who were unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.
Children under five years old had the highest notification rate, mainly because of transmission to infants who are too young to be vaccinated.
This is why efforts to increase immunization rates is so important. The purpose is not necessarily to save the life of a healthy adult; it’s to protect people who are too young to be vaccinated or too sick to be vaccinated.
Vaccines have been proven over and over to be safe and effective. It’s heartening the see this reaffirmed by the Australian government. In a way, the effectiveness of modern vaccines is a reason why we can sometimes forget about how important they are.
“We’re very lucky that in Australia so many of these diseases have almost disappeared that sometimes people become a bit complacent,” [said Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek].
The fact remains that vaccines prevent diseases that used to commonly kill people, especially children. It’s important to maintain herd immunity by getting the immunization rates as high as possible.
The Australian government’s move to increase immunization rates is only the latest in steps taken to combat the anti-vaccination movement. Earlier this year, the Chiropractic Board decided to crack down on chiropractors who propagate misinformation about vaccines.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock