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Immunisation - No Debate

1 Feb 2006 7:49 PM -

While there is not (and never will be) any such thing as a 100% safe vaccine or a 100% effective vaccine, when compared to the damage done every year to children from vaccine-preventable diseases, the risks of immunisation are fair less significant than many would have us believe. Let's clear up some commonly voiced myths about immunisation and vaccines:

  1. Vaccines do work - While there will never be a vaccine that is 100% effective, most modern vaccines cause effective immunity in 90-97% of immunised individuals, depending on the vaccine. Effectiveness of immunisation can be demonstrated by population studies showing significant reduction in the numbers of cases of measles, whooping cough, haemophilus and other vaccine preventable diseases.
  2. Vaccines are safeThere will never be any such thing as a 100% safe medical treatment. A child can die from an inappropriate treatment with paracetamol or from a rare severe allergic reaction to penicillin. Before vaccines are made available they are rigorously tested for safety in clinical trials and then in mass trials. When compared to the risks of the disease they prevent, the dangers of vaccines are overstated and insignificant.
  3. Vaccines do not overload or suppress the immune system - In fact vaccines stimulate the immune system in beneficial ways. That's the whole point of immunisation.
  4. There is no conspiracy - I am usually mild mannered, but this will sometimes change on the rare occasion that a patient has suggested that I am on the payroll of major pharmaceutical companies, and this is why I promote immunisation. This is ridiculous. Like most of my colleagues, I encourage immunisation because I have witnessed the distress and suffering caused by vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, whooping cough and pneumococcal disease, and feel that immunisation against these diseases is beneficial to the majority.
  5. There is no link between immunisation and SIDS - Extensive independent studies have never found evidence of a link between immunisation and SIDS (cot death). In fact, some studies have demonstrated lower rates of SIDS in immunised children compared to unimmunised children.
  6. Immunisation - No Debate - The argument for an association between MMR and autism has always been a shaky one, and recent studies have confirmed that there is no association. In fact the Editor of the Lancet, the medical journal that first published these claims has since made a formal statement stating that he regrets publishing this claim and believes that the evidence for an association was lacking.
  7. The effectiveness of homeopathic ‘vaccines' is unproven. - Homoeopathic preparations have never been proven to prevent against infectious diseases and should never be relied upon to give protection against dangerous vaccine preventable diseases. Only conventional immunisation produces a measurable immune response. The Australian Natural Therapies Association has stated that no properly qualified natural therapist would recommend homeopathic ‘immunisation' as an alternative to conventional immunisation.

Ultimately, I believe parents have the right to make decisions about immunisation for their children, but children also have the right to be given the best care available and parents should ensure that their decisions are based on good quality evidence and not hearsay. It is thankfully true that most unimmunised children manage to make it through their lives without ever catching a vaccine preventable disease. Parents of these unimmunised children should make sure they thank the majority of parents who made the decision to immunise their children against these diseases, thus making them rare in the community.

A useful web-based decision aid for parents who would like to find out more about the risks and benefits of MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) immunisation can be found at www.ncirs.usyd.edu.au/decisionaid/.

Source: The Australian Immunisation Handbook (8th Edition), National Health & Medical Research Council (2003).