Response to Sunday Telegraph Article: Doctor’s unite to smash the anti-vaccine group (22.7.12)
This article is misleading the public about the use and efficacy of vaccines.
Firstly the article states ‘Since the introduction of childhood immunisation in the 1930s vaccine-preventable diseases have declined by more than 99 per cent’.
This statement is true but it suggests that the reason is due to childhood immunisation programs and this is untrue. The majority of the decline in infectious diseases occurred before 1950 1, 2.
The only vaccine in use in mass vaccination programs before 1950 was Diphtheria 1. Whilst a vaccine for whooping cough was available before this time it was not used extensively in the population because of safety and efficacy concerns.
Vaccines for whooping cough, measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, polio, HIb, Hepatitis B were not used in mass immunisation campaigns in Australia until after 1950. Professor Fiona Stanley states 2:
At the beginning of the 20th century mortality rates to infectious diseases were very high but they declined rapidly as social circumstances, education and income levels gradually improved. The rates of infectious diseases were very low from 1950 to 2000 and the majority of the fall in the under 5 mortality rates (80%) had occurred by 1960. From 1986 onwards Infant mortality rates in Australia were under 10 per 1,000 live births and the majority of children were not at risk from infectious diseases. ‘Infectious deaths fell before widespread vaccination was implemented’ (2, p.11).
This indicates that herd immunity due to vaccines did not control these diseases and the following statement by Kerryn Phelps, GP and adjunct Public Health professor at the University of Sydney, is untrue ‘We have the first-world luxury of not seeing so many diseases now but it’s only because in Australia we have had such high levels of immunisation’.
Professor Fiona Stanley has stated that the only vaccine in use prior to 1950 in mass vaccination programs was Diphtheria. This disease declined at the same rate as all other infectious diseases in the early 20th century. Herd immunity created by vaccines would need continual booster shots to maintain this immunity as most vaccines are of short duration. Immunity caused by natural infection is of longer duration and often sub-clinical, that is, no symptoms occur.
In the late eighties Australia had very low rates of mortality and morbidity due to infectious diseases and no coercive measures in vaccination were used at this time. That is, welfare benefits, doctor’s pay and school entry were not linked to the vaccination status of children and parents did not have to fill out a form signed by a doctor to refuse any vaccine. The number of free vaccines on the childhood schedule has increased from 9 to 16 since 1990 and these diseases were clearly controlled prior 1990 3. Infectious diseases declined before the majority of vaccines were in use and herd immunity due to vaccines is not responsible.
1. Commonwealth Department of Health, 1945 – 1986, Official Yearbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, No. 37 – 7
2. Australian Government Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Child Health Since Federation, Year Book Australia 1301.0, 2001
3. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Immunise Australia Program, 2004