Vaccination gives hope to communities everywhere

Image: WHO 

THE WEST AUSTRALIAN 29 APRIL 2015 

By Louise Pratt 

Having a child irrevocably changes how you see the world. I am grateful that my son was born healthy and I want him to stay that way.

But I can’t wrap him in cotton wool and so, as I write, my son is having his first day in child care.

Like most other Australian families who rely on child care I am grateful for the high quality of care provided.

However, I am not looking forward to him bringing home his first cold to share with the rest of the family. More importantly though, I want reassurance that he won’t come home with anything more serious, such as measles or whooping cough. His vaccinations are up to date but he is too young to be fully immunised for all preventable diseases. The best way to boost immunisation effectiveness is to ensure that everyone around my son is also vaccinated, to maximise herd immunity.

When more than 90 per cent of children are vaccinated against measles, only one child in a million will get encephalitis (inflammation of the brain caused by measles). However, when more than 10 per cent stop getting the measles vaccination, the chance of a child in that community getting encephalitis is as high as one in 2000.

With more than 75,000 young children in our nation not fully immunised and coverage in some areas as low as 67 per cent, immunisation rates are below the level necessary to protect everyone.

This week is World Immunisation Week, with the theme Close the Immunisation Gap. The World Health Organisation is calling for an end to unnecessary disability and death caused by failure to vaccinate. I am glad Australia is now paying attention.

Government plans to strip so-called conscientious objectors of their entitlement to $2100 in family payments have my full support. It’s unfair that my family is doing the right thing but is left vulnerable by those who aren’t.

What’s also unfair is the fact that globally one in five children are missing out on immunisations that could avert 1.5 million deaths from preventable diseases each year.

Vaccine-preventable diseases can perpetuate the cycle of poverty, as they make children too sick to go to school, make parents unable to go to work, and take valuable savings to buy medicine and health care.

It’s why I support a strong Australian aid program and providing children in poor countries access to vaccines through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Pleasingly, nearly half a billion children have been immunised through Gavi support against diseases including polio, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, meningitis, pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhoea, while increasing the herd immunity protection for those still too young to be fully protected.

The $7.5 billion secured globally for Gavi’s work means their plan to vaccinate an additional 6 million lives between 2016 and 2020 can now be turned into reality.