Te Mana Hauora O Te Tairawhiti
21 June 2017
by Dr Douglas Lush, GP, Uawa, Ngati Porou Hauora
Recently there has been lots of commentary suggesting doctors want to hide some vague but terrible information about vaccines from parents.
This is a conspiracy theory, with no logic behind it. Doctors and nurses work hard to do the best they can for patients, using best possible evidence. Our information is from scientists who have spent years studying and researching, not from an evening with Dr Google.
When I was 22 I caught up on all the vaccines my parents had not let me have as a child. I was about to become a doctor and I did not want to risk getting a serious disease and passing it on to patients. I had studied science and medicine and learnt that vaccines are the best way to prevent getting many serious illnesses and infecting others.
My parents were doing their best, but they were influenced by others who were suspicious of immunisation. It was more than just luck that I did not suffer from serious, vaccine-preventable infections when I was growing up. My parents, and others who don’t vaccinate rely on what is called herd immunity. There were enough vaccinated children around me to stop the diseases taking hold in the community. Vaccination protects the whole community, including unborn children, babies too young to be vaccinated, or people who already have serious illnesses.
From the moment you get up in the morning and risk slipping in the shower, nothing in life is 100 percent risk-free.
Vaccines get much more scrutiny than everyday risks, as they should. New vaccines are rigorously tested with a series of trials, and once they are released there is post-marketing surveillance. If a safety problem is found at any stage, the vaccine is withdrawn. As with other medicines, there can be side effects but these are mostly minor and short-lived. Severe effects are exceptionally rare. The best source of information on vaccines in New Zealand is the Immunisation Advisory Centre website.
I work as a GP in a beautiful but poor community which can do without misinformation about vaccines. This will lead to a decrease in vaccination rates, as we’ve seen in babies in Tairawhiti over the past few months. An epidemic of whooping cough this year has been predicted, and the number of cases has already started to increase. This is a miserable disease, with coughing that can go on for months. For small babies, it is very dangerous, as they struggle to breathe or stop breathing, after coughing bouts. They may still be too young to be fully protected by whooping-cough vaccination, but they are much safer if those around them are vaccinated, and their mother had a booster in pregnancy.
So yes, doctors do recommend vaccination because they know it is safe and effective, and protects people from serious illness. No one would say vaccination has saved the world, although vaccination wiped out a terrible disease, smallpox, and led to huge decreases in others, including tetanus, diphtheria, polio, whooping cough, Haemophilus influenza type b, pneumococcal disease, meningococcal disease, rotavirus, HPV, hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella.
Improvements in living conditions and medical care have also helped to decrease the risk of dying from infectious diseases, and of course good nutrition and not smoking are very important for health. However, these important measures will not stop anyone from acquiring a vaccine-preventable disease if they are in contact with someone who is infectious.
Making an informed decision is important but this is different from being terrified by misinformation. Most people know this. As a GP with a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable members of our community, I wish that the “anti-vaxxers” would take their scare tactics elsewhere.