No jab, no play campaign reveals vaccination refusals high as babies die

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No jab, no play campaign reveals vaccination refusals high as babies die

Jane Hansen
The Daily Telegraph
May 06, 2013 12:00AM

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Eleizabeth Cockroft and Nathan Taylor lost their baby Malakai to whooping cough. Picture: Brian Cassey Source: The Daily Telegraph

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Toni McCaffery cradles her baby Dana, who died of whooping cough in 2009. Source: Supplied

The Richmond-Tweed region, in northern NSW, and Cairns in Far North Queensland, can today be identified as the areas that have the highest number of conscientious objectors – or “vaccine refusers” – in Australia.

On day two of The Daily Telegraph’s joint campaign with The Sunday Telegraph, which calls for parents and officials to get tough on protecting children from preventable diseases, the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register has shown the proportion of youngsters with no vaccines recorded in Far North Queensland is between 5 and 8 per cent. In the Richmond-Tweed area, it is 8 per cent, way above the national figure.

They were also home to Dana McCaffery of Lennox Head, who died aged four weeks on March 9, 2009, and Kailis Smith from Tweed, who passed away on April 22, 2011 aged nine weeks.

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Across the state border, Malakai Taylor died on September 17, 2012 in Cairns, aged six weeks.

The national average of vaccine refusers is 1.5 per cent, but Far North Queensland has a rate of 3.3 per cent and in Richmond-Tweed it’s 9.9 per cent, or nearly one in 10.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, a firm supporter of immunisation, oversaw the change of federal government terminology from “conscientious objector” to “vaccine refuser” for this group.

A loophole still exists which allows families to continue receiving the 50 per cent childcare rebate – conditional on up-to-date vaccinations – if they register as “vaccine refusers”.

Far North Queensland and Richmond-Tweed areas also coincide with higher rates per head of whooping cough, according to Paul Corben, the Director of Public Health for the Far North Coast Area Health Service.

“During the epidemics of 2008-2009 we saw stark differences in adjacent communities,” Mr Corben said.

“Whooping cough raged through Byron at the height of the epidemic.

“It had twice the rate of adjacent Ballina which has a good vaccination rate.”

The north coast communities with the highest number of reported cases of whooping cough over the period 2008-2010 were those with lowest childhood vaccination rates: Bellingen, Lismore and Byron.

In contrast, the three local government areas with the highest vaccination rates had the lowest attack rates: Port Macquarie-Hastings, Clarence Valley and Coffs Harbour, he said.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a highly contagious disease.

Immunisation expert Professor Peter McIntyre said the vaccine was good at reducing the risk of a severe strain of the disease but it was not good at preventing infection altogether – the reason why it persisted.

“Clearly there are benefits to you as an individual to vaccinate, but there are benefits to others in the community, particularly babies,” he said.

In Queensland, the Cairns epidemic started in September 2011 with 723 cases recorded.

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