Rose Gresham reveals why education is so important.

Although most Australian parents fully support vaccination and keep their children up to date, one in three have some concerns about immunising their kids. The Australian Child Health Poll, conducted in January this year, highlights the importance of staying informed for those who already vaccinate and suggests that educating those who don’t is an imperative.

Australians are, to a large extent, supportive of Vaccination. Out of 1,945 parents studied in the Child Health Poll, an overwhelming 93 per cent preferred their children to receive all recommended vaccines on the National Immunisation Program. Not only do most Australians want their children vaccinated, it appears we want others to vaccinate their kids, too. New South Wales currently boasts a ‘No Jab, No Play’ policy, preventing access to day-care for unvaccinated kids without an exemption formand it seems to have the public’s vote, with 71 per cent of NSW citizens supporting refusal of access. With such high levels of support, the question over the necessity for further discussion on the topic could be raised. However, the 2017 Poll has uncovered some cracks beneath our pro-vaccination veneer, and provides an incentive to keep the debate open to all members of our community.

Roughly one third of parents surveyed had some concern about vaccinating their children, despite 80 per cent of these families still following the National Immunisation Program. The Poll found that an uncertainty surrounding the safety of vaccinations was the main concern12 per cent of parents indicated that they were unsure if vaccinations were safe, whilst 1 per cent firmly believed they were not. One in six parents believed vaccines to contain harmful ingredients such as mercury or aluminium, 9 per cent believed vaccines could cause autism, and 30 per cent were unsure about autism and vaccines. The concern that Dr Anthea Rhodes, Director of the Child Health Poll has around these responses is that none of them are supported by scientific evidence.

“Since the year 2000, vaccines available on the National Immunisation Program have not contained the mercury-containing preservative thiomersal”, says Dr Rhodes.

Any ingredients within vaccines in addition to the active components are extensively tested, and, despite the fairly significant level of concern, there has been no link found between autism and vaccines. Not only are parents often misinformed regarding the dangers of vaccination, many often delay their child’s immunisations for reasons that, unbeknownst to them, are invalid.

Many parents are confused about whether vaccinations should be delayed in the setting of minor illness. Over a third of parents believed that vaccines should be delayed for a child with just a runny nose and a further third were unsure. Almost half thought vaccinations should be delayed if a child is on antibiotics, even if they are well, and close to a quarter believed that a child who had a previous local reaction should not be vaccinated. Once more, all of these assertions are incorrect- It is only in the case of a fever or severe previous reaction that a vaccination should be delayed.

This lack of clear knowledge surrounding vaccinations may be contributing towards the ability for scientifically inaccurate comments to incite fear. When prominent public figures such as One Nation’s leader Pauline Hanson are able to claim links between vaccines and autism and encourage a non-existent ‘allergy test’ to be performed on children, it is no wonder that many are left confused. Hanson herself appears to be a little confused on the topic, having since apologised for her incorrect statements and cited her full support for the Vaccination program.

Perhaps even more important than educating those with misconceptions surrounding vaccinations is making sure that those who refuse to vaccinate still have access to healthcare. The Poll found that one in six children that were not up to date with their vaccinations had been refused care by a healthcare provider. Dr Rhodes expressed grave concern that this decision would “not only deny healthcare to a child, but remove the possibility of educating parents and helping them to eventually choose to vaccinate”. She also suggested that these statistics present an ethical dilemma, as “children aren’t making these choices about vaccination for themselves”, and thus should not be denied the benefit of healthcare services.

Despite the nation being in overwhelming favour of vaccination, confusion abounds when it comes to the safety of vaccines and when to administer them. Hence, the importance of an open dialogue- both in the community, between parents and their regular GP and between the medical field and the broader public.