Perth’s disease immunity at risk

A study by WA health researchers has found there is an increasing trend of high earning Perth parents being hesitant to vaccinate their children.

The study concluded this trend is causing “herd immunity” in Perth to become at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases.

One of the authors of the study, Sharon Swaney, said many factors made people in higher socio-economic areas become sceptical of vaccinations.

“They believe their higher educational and socio-economic status, along with their previous successes in life and where they live, would result in positive health outcomes,” she said.

“They believe this would reduce the risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Ms Swaney said those interviewed in the study were more worried about the impacts of the vaccination rather than the disease that could be contracted.

“They become more scared of the vaccine than they are of the disease, and that’s false, they should be more scared of the disease.”

The state government recently announced free flu shots for pre-schoolers during the upcoming flu season, stating that children were especially vulnerable to infection.

Influenza vaccine. Photo: Matthew Goddard

Director of The Immunisation Foundation of Australia Catherine Hughes said parents ought to take advantage of the free vaccine over the next few weeks.

“The reason why the government has made this vaccine free is because there are so many children under the age of five in WA who wind up with the flu,” she said.

“They’re not making it free just to be nice to us.

“They’re doing it for a very good reason, to keep kids out of hospitals.”

Ms Hughes expressed concerns that some parents have a distrust in anything that contains unnatural chemicals.

“Some parents truly believe that everything that is natural is good for you, and everything that is unnatural, or man-made, or has chemicals is bad for you, and we know that’s not true,” she said.

Ms Hughes also criticised celebrities using their platform to promote anti-vaccination messages.

“I would love to invite Pete Evans or Anthony Mundine to come to a children’s hospital and really look at the children who are there on life-support struggling with influenza or whooping cough, or who have lost limbs to meningococcal,” she said.

“It really frustrates me when they abuse their public platforms and share their anti-vaccine views and misinformation.”     

Curtin University Senior Lecturer of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences Brian Brestovac said the spread of misinformation on the internet could cause people to become sceptical of vaccinations.

“Anti-vax groups scare people,” Dr Brestovac said.

“Occasionally things do go wrong, very rarely, and they harp on that and dish out false information.

“When they make a claim, for instance, that it may cause autism, and it doesn’t, and it’s false, and we have ample data that proves that.”

Dr Brestovac said parents needed to consider the choice between the dangers of the vaccine and what the consequences of the disease would be.

“Ask these parents if their child had meningococcal septicaemia and within hours they’ll die, or they can take the antibiotic and save their child, what would they do?”

Both Dr Brestovac and Ms Swaney warned of the effect a lack of vaccinations presents to a population’s immunity.

“If you get an under-vaccinated population, you’ll have a lot of susceptible people,” Dr Brestovac said.

“Overall Australia has a good [vaccination] rate, but there are pockets like Mullumbimby over east for instance, but even Fremantle here and Cottesloe, South Perth, they have low vaccination rates, we are definitely at risk,” Ms Swaney said.

Listen to an excerpt from our interview with Sharon Swaney below.