World Immunisation Week which began on Friday 24th April and concludes Thursday 30th April, showcases the growing importance of awareness and the effective ways to keep children safe from preventable disease.

UNICEF Australia, the humanitarian fund organisation that champions children’s health and wellbeing, along with the Department of Health have urged parents to not forget about their child’s immunisation programs during this time of crisis.Though Australia has a generally high level of immunised children, experts note it is essential that we do not fall behind in vaccination upkeep.

24 countries around the globe including Brazil, Mexico and Ukraine have paused child vaccination programs in the wake of COVID 19, leaving over 117 million children susceptible to deadly and preventable diseases such as measles, tetanus and rubella.

Despite Australia not being one of these countries, we still have a low level of children who are fully immunised at the age of two years old.

Felicity Wever, Director of International Programs at UNICEF Australia says any decline in immunisation rates, particularly for this age group, would be cause for concern.  We should be making sure children are not missing out for good, putting them at unnecessary risk of preventable disease.

“The government sets out the immunisation schedule for children, but some children may be missing out on immunisation due to social distancing or fear of COVID-19.

“Immunisations are an essential part of regular health checks, so we’re urging parents to continue to make those appointments during this time.

Felicity Wever, Director of International Programs at UNICEF Australia

“UNICEF is also ensuring there is a continuity of ongoing health services for children in the wider Asia Pacific region, including immunisations, even in the midst of this pandemic.,” says Ms Wever.

Similar trends of immunisation postponement are developing in Asia Pacific regions including Vietnam and the Philippines, which is particularly dangerous as experienced during a recent secondary outbreak of  measles in Samoa,.

Due to postponement of supplementary programs, pockets of children are left un-immunised and vulnerable. In such vulnerable countries wherein health systems are often of lower standard, prevention is truly the best treatment and these childhood diseases combined with coronavirus result in communities fighting against a multi-pronged enemy.

“It’s not that long ago I that we saw a measles outbreak in Samoa. 70 lives lost and 61 children under five years old died as a result of that.” says Ms Wever.

“Outbreaks are  a very real risk when you have declined coverage of immunisation.”

“Having worked with UNICEF for a number of years now in places where it is such a precious gift for parents to be able to immunise their children because they have much higher rates of mortality under five years old;  it’s a luxury in countries with very high levels of coverage like Australia for parents to be able to make their own choices.”

Dr. Katherine O’Brien, Director of the Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals Programme at the World Health Organisation implores people to continue vaccinations wherever possible.

“WHO is working constantly with partners and scientists to accelerate vaccine development for COVID-19, but we must also ensure people are protected against those diseases for which vaccines already exist,” says Dr. O’Brien.

“The message from this guidance is clear. Countries should take what steps they can to sustain immunisation programmes and prevent unnecessary loss of life.”

World Immunisation Week is primarily about raising awareness. Children still die of completely preventable diseases, a fact that should not be the case in 2020, especially when first-hand evidence of the lethality unchecked disease results in can be seen globally.

Parents have the right and duty to protect their children. Many deadly childhood diseases have been all but eradicated, the number steadily declining.

This can only continue if awareness increases, everyone contributes and does their part to support childhood health via immunisation.

By Dr. Adam Coulson

Would you let a carpenter operate on your child? (and why you shouldn’t trust your child’s healthcare to celebrity chefs, footballers’ wives & other charlatans).

Chloe was a beautiful infant child. Loved by her doting parents and grandparents. Chloe took several agonising days to die of whooping cough in a modern Intensive Care Unit in one of Australia’s best children’s hospitals.

Whooping cough is vaccine-preventable, Chloe was not vaccinated.

The year was 2004. Her death rocked me. I still see her pretty face.

More than 150 people have recently succumbed to Measles in New York State. The US had eliminated measles in 2000. Measles is vaccine-preventable.

Measles is not benign.

If one of our favourite children’s authors, Roald Dahl, were alive today he could recount how his eldest daughter, Olivia, died tragically of measles encephalitis (infection and inflammation of the brain) aged just seven years old in 1962. He was a passionate advocate of vaccination. He had reason to be.

Recently, Oregon State recorded its first case of tetanus in more than 30 years. The six-year-old unvaccinated boy spent 47 days in Intensive Care. Tetanus is vaccine-preventable. I have cared for patients suffering tetanus – an extremely unpleasant and life-threatening illness.

Australia has seen a surge in self-proclaimed “experts and champions” of anti-vaccination. Many of them have celebrity status. They make false and unsubstantiated claims about vaccination.

Make no mistake, these self-proclaimed experts lack any formally recognised training or education in health sciences let alone medicine. They are charlatans and should be called out. Would you allow a well-meaning carpenter to operate on your child?
After all, they’re good with tools. Would you?

Let’s think about that for a moment.
If your child needed surgery would you entrust their care to a charismatic and charming carpenter who lacked any formal surgical training? Would you?

Footballers’ wives might be good for a bit of lighthearted TV
entertainment but would you really turn to them for healthcare

Isn’t it reassuring that Australia has a rigorous system of surgical training and registration that guarantees the expertise and competence of  Surgeons?

So why do intelligent and well-meaning Australian parents
entrust their children’s healthcare to untrained professionals?

When childhood vaccination was launched in Australia during the last century parents had a lived world experience of the devastation that vaccine preventable diseases caused. From 1944 to 1954 polio was responsible for more than 1000 deaths in Australia. The reality of this disease was ever-present in communities. This devastating illness crippled and killed children. Its vaccine was welcomed. Many elderly Australians still live with
the devastating neuromuscular disability wrought by the polio virus.

Modern Australia, with its public health advances, has seen our communities thankfully grow healthier and safer. The lived world experience of the destructive power of vaccine-preventable diseases is no
longer in our consciousness.

Make no mistake, vaccine-preventable diseases kill
and are ready to strike the unvaccinated, and the “herd”, if vaccine
rates continue to decline.

Remember that the natural world isn’t all paleo and wholefoods. The natural world is life-threatening viruses and bacteria many of which are largely vaccine-preventable.

Would you want to be the parent that has to bury your child of an entirely vaccine-preventable disease?

Intelligent, caring and well-meaning Australian parents are right to question the healthcare their children are offered. So where should you turn for credible advice to answer your questions on vaccination?
I recommend that your “health home” should be your General Practitioner.

These highly trained doctors have undertaken years of postgraduate  medical training to specialise in providing holistic healthcare advice for
the whole family.

Australia has an outstanding system of primary healthcare that
allows consumers to choose their own General Practitioner. Take
the time to find a GP that you like & trust. Recommendations from
friends & family can be a good first step.

Would you want to be the parent that has to apologise to your child for their lifelong disability as the result of a vaccine-preventable illness?

The Royal Australian College for General Practitioners also has an informative website that provides advice on finding a GP in your area: https://www.racgp.org.au/information-for-patients/

Many General Practices undergo rigorous accreditation as
evidence of their quality. A list of these can be found at: https://www.agpal.com.au/for-consumers/ 

If you have a number of questions you would like to ask your GP about vaccination, request a long appointment to allow you the time to explore
your issues. Complex questions might require several consultations.

If your child has complex healthcare needs impacting on vaccination decisions your GP can refer you to a paediatrician or paediatric immunologist for more specialized advice.

Child health nurses are highly skilled registered nurses with postgraduate training and expertise in child health. They can be an invaluable source of credible advice on the healthcare needs of your child.

Make sure you entrust the healthcare needs of your child to credible health professionals with the appropriate training & qualifications.

You wouldn’t let a carpenter operate on your child? Would you?

About the author: Dr. Adam Coulson is a Practising Specialist Emergency Physician. He is a father to six children all of whom are vaccinated. The views expressed in this article are those of the author. The names and details of any patients have been changed to protect patient confidentiality.