November 08, 2001
Immunisation, an effective way of helping to prevent thousands of deaths each year from such diseases as polio, haemophilus influenza and whooping cough, has come under attack in recent years by people and organisations claiming that vaccines can cause conditions ranging from allergies to brain damage to death. In this report Jacqueline Head explains the facts about immunisation, and what you as a parent should know before taking your child to receive a vaccination.
Immunisations administered in Australia and in many other countries are intended to protect children and adults against diseases including diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, haemophilus influenzae meningitis, and hepatitis B. All of these diseases excluding tetanus are spread by contact and before immunisation was introduced outbreaks and epidemics of these diseases were not uncommon.
According to the Government, if enough people are immunised, the infection can no longer be spread from person to person, and can die out completely. Since immunisation has been introduced smallpox has been completely eradicated from the world and polio has been successfully eliminated from many countries.
Each vaccine contains live or dead bacteria, and some contain yeast cells, chick embryo proteins and/or antibiotics. After taking the vaccine the body reacts by producing antibodies, which fight the disease and help to prevent the person from contracting the disease again.
In Australia, it is recommended that babies from two months begin an immunisation program, starting with hepatitis B, then diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio.
The last one, tetanus, is taken at 15 years of age or before leaving school.
Immunisation is not compulsory, however the Government encourages people to immunise by issuing immunisation certificates to children who have received the vaccines, meaning schools can find out whether each child has been vaccinated.
As a further incentive, parents who refuse to immunise their children are also denied family benefit entitlements including the Child Care Rebate and the Maternity Immunisation Allowance, unless the child has a medical reason not to have a vaccination, already has natural immunity or the vaccine is unavailable. The Government also takes into formal conscientious objection if you have a personal, philosophical, religious or medical belief that your child should not be immunised. If this is the case you will need to ask your immunisation provider to sign a Conscientious Objection form.
The case against immunisation
This apparent forcefulness by the Government, and by medical authorities, has caused several bodies to emerge in retaliation and question the effectiveness of immunisation and potential dangers associated with it.
The Australian Vaccination Network, an informative body, promotes freedom of information and freedom of choice in relation to immunisation.
Meryl Dorey of the AVN says it is important people are aware of the reactions that have been reported in relation to vaccines.
"No science is above question," she said.
However in this process many reports have emerged of children experiencing severe side effects from vaccinations.
Despite some reports that immunisation can cause severe and serious side effects, it is important to know that in the greater majority of cases the only thing that vaccines are putting children at risk of is nothing worse than a rash or temperature.
A study reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 'Children's Immunisation', published in the Medical Journal of Australia, showed that out of 53 children who received vaccinations, 20 per cent suffered persistent screaming, 3 per cent had convulsions, 3 per cent suffered apnoea, 3 per cent came up in a rash, 6 percent had a temperature, 1 per cent vomited and cried and 1 percent had swelling of the eyelids and face. 47 per cent had no adverse reaction to the shot.
What about children with allergies?
There has also been widespread concern about children with a history of severe allergies to egg receiving vaccination, due to some containing chick embryo proteins.
A study conducted by Ross Andrews and associates in 1998, Vaccinating children with a history of serious reactions after vaccination or of egg allergy, concluded that children with allergies or who had previously suffered convulsions, high temperatures, apnoea or persistent screaming after receiving a vaccine, could be safely given vaccinations.
The report advised children with such allergies or reactions to have their vaccination administered in a special clinic under controlled conditions.
Since 1998 the pertussis vaccine has also been modified, and an acellular one, which will reduce the potential side effects, is now available.
Another argument against immunisation is that if a child is at risk of suffering an anaphylactic shock from a vaccination they should not be allowed to receive it and doctors would be breaching their duty of care by administering the dose.
According to Dr. David Taylor, if a child was known to have an anaphylactic reaction the doctor should not and probably would not administer the immunisation, the only time a child would be considered for vaccination in this case is when it would be considered that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks, and if so this should be carried out it in a controlled environment such as a hospital.
Usually a specialist would be consulted in this situation.
What your doctor should know about your child
If your child suffers from any of the following it is important that you let your doctor or nurse know before going ahead with the vaccination:
- Any major illness or allergy, including allergy to egg yolk;
- Has ever had a fit or an illness of the nervous system;
- Has had a severe reaction to a previous immunisation, such as a temperature over 39 degrees Celsius, or persistent screaming, or collapse, or convulsions;
- Is suffering from cancer such as lymphoma or leukemia;
- Is under treatment with cortisone or a similar drug;
- Has had immunoglobulin or a blood transfusion in the last three months, or if there is a household member on cancer therapy or has reduced immunity.
For further information go to www.health.gov.au/publth/immunise/information.htm or consult your GP.
Information obtained from 'Vaccinating children with a history of serious reactions after vaccination or of egg allergy', Ross M Andrews et al, Medical Journal of Australia 1998; 168: 491-494. Immunise Australia Program, Population Health Division, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, www.health.gov.au/publth/immunise/information.htm, Australian Vaccination Network www.avn.org.au
By Jacqueline Head
Reprinted with permission from Editforce