A Shot in the Arm

A debate is raging presently in Australia about immunisation for children.  Rates have fallen steadily over the last decade which could see a return of ‘preventable’ diseases.  According to the ABS, in 2012/13 there were just over 75,000 children under the age of five not fully vaccinated, and of these, almost 15,000 were registered as ‘conscientious objectors’.  Reasons for this objection are usually religious or ‘free choice’ based.  Interestingly, the highest rates of parents not immunising their children come from affluent Sydney and northern New South Wales suburbs.

In an attempt to counter falling levels, the Federal Government has announced that it will withhold childcare rebates – worth up to $15,000 annually – for parents who refuse to fully vaccinate their children.  I wonder whether this will have much impact on the affluent suburbs however, and whether this policy may in turn adversely affect regional areas where the reasons for lower vaccination rates are more practicality than protest based (i.e. getting to a GP or clinic).

I am a firm believer in vaccination, particularly since the previous fears relating links to autism have long been debunked.  I would be devastated to see a return of some horrible diseases – many life threatening, others leaving permanent disfigurement – purely for the sake of ignorance and complacency.  In my humble opinion, the main reason for the lower jab rates is simply ‘out of sight, out of mind’.  That is, there have been no outbreaks of anything particularly nasty within living memory of those aged in their 20s to 50s, and therefore no adverse point of reference.

We have some lovely old magazines at our home – they suit the décor and I love the advertisements!  I recently stumbled across one that dealt with this very topic, so I thought I’d share a little of it here.  The magazine is called ‘Woman’ and this is taken from the August 13, 1951 issue.

‘When Polio Came to Toowoomba’

Fast facts:

  • Polio epidemic – 1945 (population – not specified) cases – 96, deaths 6.
  • Polio epidemic – 1951 – population 35,000 – cases – 160 (8 requiring time in ‘iron lung’), deaths 5 (during a 4 month period Jan-Apr 1951).
  • Many of those stricken never regained full use of their limbs.
  • Toowoomba hospital circa 1951 – 200 beds.

For those of you unfamiliar, polio is a virus which causes paralysis by targeting those nerve cells in the spine which control muscles; there was no treatment for it at the time of the article.

Further, I found an online article stating that, in 1953, Australia had one of its worst ever years for polio cases – approx. 10,000 cases at its peak.  It was around 1953 that the polio vaccine was created, with widespread use occurring within a few years, and by the end of the 1950s, polio was virtually eliminated.

I wonder if any of the ‘conscientious objectors’ would feel the same if they had lived through something like the above example personally, only to have lifelong effects, or to watch their child spend weeks or months in an iron lung?  We are blessed to not have to live with such a disease in modern times, please let’s keep it that way.

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