[Note: Although I think it's clear in the text below, I changed the title of this post to reflect the fact that it's the Victorian government doing this, not the Federal Australian government.]
In Australia, pertussis — whooping cough — is at epidemic levels. There were over 38,000 cases last year, and it’s killed eight babies since 2008. Despite this, the Health Minister of Victoria wants to cut a program that provides free pertussis vaccines for caregivers and parents of babies. He claims (under advice of a panel of experts) that it isn’t providing sufficient clinical results, but many doctors are concerned what this will do to the already too-high rates of infection.
Even if the results aren’t as good as hoped, it would make sense to fund this program until infection rates are down, at least to where they were before the epidemic.
Toni McCaffery — the mother of Dana McCaffery, one of those eight infants killed by pertussis — has created a petition to continue the program. If you live in Australia, I urge you to read it and sign it if you choose.
And please, please talk to your board-certified doctor and see if you need a shot or a booster.
As long as antivaxxers spread their thin gruel of nonsense, as long as people think it’s OK to get a religious exemption from a life-saving vaccination, as long as people aren’t even aware that as adults they need to keep up with their TDAP booster shots (as I wasn’t), then I will continue to write about this.
As long as babies are dying, I’ll continue to write about this. Let’s hope I can stop very, very soon.
If you have any doubts, I’ll be clear: the antivaccination movement is dangerous. Despite vast amounts of evidence that vaccines don’t cause autism (and a host of other ailments), and the equally vast amount of evidence that vaccination is among the greatest medical achievements in human history, a lot of people have been scared into not vaccinating their kids. This puts their children at risk, as well as children around them: many of the outbreaks of measles, pertussis, and other diseases we’ve seen in the past few years are directly due to low vaccination rates.
What can we do? Some people advocate requiring parents to vaccinate their children. This is in theory a good solution; it would drastically lower outbreaks of preventable and potentially fatal diseases. And it’s not like we have no other laws on how parents must care for their children. Almost every state requires children be in safety seats for cars, for example. And many schools require children be vaccinated before they can attend.
I’ll admit though, that the idea of requiring vaccinations bugs me. I don’t like it when the government forces me to do things for my own good, even when that good is overwhelmingly positive (like, say, seat belt use). I’ll admit this is not a completely rational reaction — more visceral, I’d say — but it’s a good indication that if we did try to pass laws requiring vaccinations, the outcry would be substantial.
But what’s the alternative?
Well, physician Rahul Parikh has an idea: raise insurance premiums for parents who don’t vaccinate their kids: