‘It’s not fair’: Anti-vax mum lashes out
THE beachside town of Byron Bay has some of the highest anti-vaccination rates in the country - and it's taking a toll on children's education.
Last night's 7.30 report examined the impact of the "anti-vax" movement on the area of northern NSW.
The Mt Warning Community preschool, 60km north of Byron Bay, is struggling, with almost half the children unvaccinated.
Under new state government rules, their unvaccinated siblings will be banned from enrolling in preschool in the future, as part of its "No Jab, No Play" policy, fuelling concerns young kids are missing their vital preschool education due to their parents' choices.
It also poses a threat to children who are vaccinated, who could also be affected if their local preschools have to close.
Vaccinations protect young children from 16 serious infections including measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, haemophilus influenzae type B disease, hepatitis B, rotavirus, chickenpox, meningococcal disease, influenza and pneumococcal disease.
Despite this, northern NSW is a hotspot for anti-vaccination, with around a third of children unvaccinated, compared with a national average of just over 5 per cent. Nationally, 94.62 per cent of five-year-olds are vaccinated.
Still, parents who choose not to immunise their children stand firmly by their choice.
"I don't think it's fair, to be honest," non-vaccinating mother Katharina Gorka told the ABC. "It makes me feel like we're a bit secluded from society.
"I have a set opinion on vaccinations and that's not gonna change."
Anti-vaxxers have made an industry out of the movement. From natural therapists to organic food stores, wellness coaches and yoga tents, it's become something of a lifestyle.
Preschools say the "No Jab, No Play" pre-exclusion policy has encouraged some parents to vaccinate their children. But many of them just won't budge.
Byron mother Toni McCaffery told the public broadcaster her baby died as a result of whooping cough.
"My four-week-old baby coughed and coughed and coughed and coughed and coughed and coughed, which seemed like for minutes, and went blue, stopped breathing and passed out in my arms and the hospital staff very calmly took her from me and put oxygen on her face and said, 'Yup, classic whooping cough,'" she said. Her baby girl, Dana, died in 2009 at Lismore Hospital.
Ms McCaffery is now part of the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters, a group which helps to promote informed debate about immunisation.
On the state government's new policy, she said: "I know it sounds like tough love, but these diseases can and do kill. These policies are all about keeping childcare in preschools safer to protect our most vulnerable."
In July this year, the Federal Government introduced a new program penalising parents for not vaccinating their children, under which Family Tax Benefit Part A payments would cop a fortnightly $28 reduction for each unvaccinated child.
"Immunisation is the safest way to protect children from vaccine-preventable diseases," then-Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan said in a statement.
"Parents who don't immunise their children are putting their own kids at risk as well as the children of other people."
He said getting less cash would be a "constant reminder" of the importance of vaccinating.
Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters co-ordinator Heidi Robertson said the policy is having a gradual but positive effect.
"Vaccination rates have increased and they have increased slowly, but they continue to go up every time new data comes out," she said.
"In a region like ours where nothing else has worked, this seems to be the one thing that has worked."