An Australian emergency department doctor has sent a chilling warning to parents who choose not to vaccinate their children – you are putting their lives at risk.
The warning follows the death last week of four-week-old Riley Hughes, who died in a Perth hospital after contracting whooping cough, but was too young for the first round of vaccinations.
Vaccination rates in affluent areas such as Manly in Sydney and Bayside in Melbourne hover at around 87 per cent, well below the 93 per cent required for “herd immunity”.
Australian Medical Association vice-president and emergency department doctor Stephen Parnis said parents who refused to vaccinate their children had parallels with “people who denied climate change”.
“It’s profoundly concerning because not only does it harm them and their own children, but it puts at risk other members of the community as well,” Dr Parnis told The New Daily.
“It is certainly a source of angst within the medical profession because there is no debate about the merits of immunisation.
“What we have seen is a group of people who think that they know better than the weight of evidence from the medical and scientific profession.”
Westmead Children’s Hospital general paediatrician Nick Wood said he had seen an upswing in cases of children with whooping cough compared to last year.
“This is often in kids which are unvaccinated or haven’t completed their vaccine schedule,” Dr Wood said.
“They really rely on herd immunity and other people in the community not getting the disease.”
Dr Wood said the situation was likely to get worse if low coverage areas, where parents are increasingly conscientiously objecting to vaccinations, continued.
“In the case of measles in New South Wales, the majority of people getting measles are unvaccinated, and they can spread this around to children who are too young to be vaccinated.”
“These diseases don’t unfortunately go away. They will continue where there is low coverage.”
Some 15,000 unvaccinated children are registered with the Australian government as “conscientious objectors”, according to National Health Performance Authority figures from 2014.
“If vaccination rates remain lower than they should be, and we are not alert to developments in terms of evidence, then we are susceptible to these things,” Dr Parnis said.
“It has relegated many diseases to the history books but we always run the risk of having these diseases reoccur if we aren’t vigilant about vaccination rates.”
The anti-vaccination movement argues immunisations are linked to autism, with celebrities like Jim Carrey and Donald Trump publicly joining the cause.
A University of Sydney study last year found no evidence that common vaccinations were linked to autism after studying data from more than one million children worldwide.
Professor Raina MacIntyre, who researches infectious diseases, said autism was common, the peak incidence was in those early childhood years and people have mistakenly linked the two.
“It’s like eating toast in the morning,” Prof MacIntyre said. “I think parents with children with autism are most vulnerable to listening to these theories because they’re looking for answers and looking for information.”
Professor MacIntyre says the anti-vaccination movement in Australia is a noisy but small group, with national vaccination rates still above 93 per cent.
So where does the debate go following the death of baby Riley?
His parents are campaigning for better vaccine awareness and have created ‘Light For Riley‘, a page on Facebook which has raised close to $40,000 for preventable disease research.
Dr Wood, Dr Parnis and Professor MacIntyre said the medical community was calling for the government to introduce whooping cough vaccinations for women in their third trimester to protect newborns from birth.
Dr Parnis said the medical profession had to educate the public “at every possible opportunity” to prevent further deaths like Riley’s from occurring.