This blog post by Jeremy Brennan, RESULTS Australia’s Global Health Campaign Manager, is the second in our World Immunisation Week series on “Closing the Gap on immunisations”.
In today’s Australia, government funded Medicare gives all Australians access to lifesaving vaccines that so many parents only a couple of generations ago wished they could have had for their children. Imagine what the parents of former Deputy Prime Minister Kim Beazley, media tycoon and billionaire, the late Kerry Packer and prominent radio talk show host John Laws would have given for a vaccine that would have stopped their sons from contracting polio as children?
Currently, there is a debate raging in Australia around what to do about parents across the country who are “vaccine refusers”. In an effort to convert the ‘refusers’ to ‘immunisers’, the Federal Government has taken a strong stance to withhold family tax benefits and rebates worth up to $15,000 per child per year.
What has been highlighted many times in the current debate is that a parents’ decision not to immunise can drastically increases the risk to the rest of us. Vaccination rates can be thought of as working like a sporting team or a political party for that matter. If more than 10% of your team decides that they are going to start playing for themselves instead of the team, then the chances of the team winning decreases by a huge amount. It is the same for vaccines; when more than 10% of a community stops getting the measles vaccination the chances of all children in that community getting encephalitis (swelling of the brain caused by measles) is 1 in 2000. When more than 90% of children are vaccinated, only 1 in a million children get encephalitis. Playing as a team decreases your child’s chance of encephalitis by 500 times.
Kim Beazley spent over a year in a hospital isolation ward, in an iron lung and in rehabilitation due to contracting polio as a child. Laws contracted polio in either Papua New Guinea (PNG), where he was born, or in Australia. And it is important to compare these two countries when considering our immunisation discussion. In a number of Australian suburbs vaccination rates are starting to drop below that 90% mark because parents are choosing not to vaccinate. By comparison in PNG the vaccination rate for measles in 2013 was 70%. In PNG immunisation is not an option for every family. Experiencing the suffering and loss of life this ‘immunsation gap’ causes, I’m sure they wish they could have these vaccinations for their children.
Worldwide, pneumonia is the single largest cause of infectious death in children Pneumonia kills almost one million children under the age of five every year. This is even more heartbreaking when you consider that a vaccine that has been in use since 2000 could have prevented these deaths. Almost 22 million children are missing out on basic vaccines every year.
Looking at the situation in PNG and other disadvantaged countries doesn’t just allow us to see the challenges faced by Australia’s previous generations. It also gives us insight into the consistency of our actions as a country. Our Government’s strong action on immunistaion domestically to reduce the number of parents refusing to vaccinate is also reflected through our international support for immunisation programs. Last year at the Rotary National Conference the Prime Minister announced his ongoing commitment to the $100 million previously commitment to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative over the next four years. The government has also committed $250 million to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance over the same time period keeping it in the top ten international donors to Gavi
I’m sure the 40 000 Rotarians across Australia would agree that the Prime Minister has continued an important investment in the amazing work of Rotary to eradicate polio around the world which will return a net benefit estimated at $45 billion over 30 years. Our ongoing commitment to Gavi has contributed to the immunisation of 500 million children since it began in 2000 and averted and estimated 7 million deaths. This is well invested Australian aid making real change.
We must never forget that so many parents in our neighbouring countries and across the world wish they had access to vaccines for their children. Children who are as dear to them as our children are to us. In Australia we have access to these vaccines and we must work together to ensure that no child is at risk, and that eventually we can eradicate these diseases all together.