The town where children are suffering because a few adults are making stupid decisions.

Kids don’t get to make important decisions about their health. This is because they lack the maturity, the life experience or the brain development to understand consequences.

We’re all in agreement on that, right? Indeed.

But what happens when the adults in charge of making important health decisions on behalf of these children screw up so badly that their lives, and the lives of other kids, are drastically and sometimes devastatingly impacted? Sometimes these adults are parents. Other times, they’re local government officials.

Welcome to Byron Bay, the sunny coastal town in NSW that is one of my favourite places in Australia and also the capital of whooping cough and rotten teeth.

Due to its reputation as a spiritual home for people seeking an alternative lifestyle and a council that is often described as ‘radically green’ (and not in a complimentary way), the Byron Shire boasts some disturbing health records.

Beautiful scenery; troubling health records. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

You see, there are two things about Byron Bay and the surrounding towns in the Northern Rivers are of NSW that distinguish it from other parts of Australia. The first is the alarmingly low level of immunisations among the community. The Byron Shire is the national capital of anti-vaxxers and the home base of many of the anti-vax movement's most virulent campaigners.

This has led to an astonishing (and terrifying) 1660% increase in the cases of whooping cough in the Northern Rivers area in the past year. 1660%.

The other thing that's a bit different about Byron is that there is no fluoride in the drinking water because the local council voted to remove it. Currently, around 96% of the drinking water in Australia is fluoridated — but not in the Byron Shire


This is a big deal, and the people most severely affected by it are children. Adult residents of Byron grew up drinking fluoridated water so their teeth were protected from a young age. But children born in and around the town have never had the benefit of fluoride and the effects of this are devastating. Byron Bay has the highest rate of tooth decay in Australia, a rate dentists say is at Third World levels.

"There is no fluoride in the drinking water because the local council voted to remove it." (Image: iStock)

Children are literally having their teeth rot out of their mouths.

''You don't have to go to Nepal to work in a Third-World environment; you just come to Ballina or Lismore or one of the northern rivers public dental clinics,'' Ballina dentist Dr Enright told Fairfax media in 2013, adding that he knew of many kids as young as three who required oral surgery under general anaesthetic in hospital to remove all their teeth because they were rotten.

According to the ABC's Lateline program:

Health experts say the number of small children in the Byron Shire requiring dental surgery is three times that of the rest of the state and that the problem could be solved by fluoride. But those opposed to the chemical compound being added to water believe it's poisonous.

Today a report came out - another one! - categorically proving there are no harmful effects from fluoride. We knew this already. We've known this for years. So many studies, reputable ones by scientists, all of them concluding with evidence (not a video someone saw on YouTube or a post on a lifestyle blogger or celebrity chef's website) that the myths about safety are just that: NOT TRUE.


And yet some people - the kind of people who are anti-vaxxers - refuse to believe it.

And these people- the members of Byron Bay local council -  are making decisions that impact upon the residents of this beautiful town.

"The Byron Shire is the national capital of anti-vaxxers." (Image: iStock)

This is abhorrent. Why a local council would have the power to make decisions permanently and negatively impacting the health of its constituents is a puzzle in itself. How has the state or federal government not overruled this? What next? Will vaccinations be banned by the Byron Shire council? Sunscreen?

Yet again this is a reminder that we must not get our information about health issues from unreliable sources. There is no debate about the efficacy of vaccinations or fluoride. The verdict is in. And no amount of woo-woo videos or something you read this one time on some health warrior website can compete with science.

Adults?  Do your job. Make responsible, fact-based, science-backed decisions about your child's health. Because there is NO evidence that supports your fears about vaccinations and fluoride. And yet the devastating consequences of not immunising children and not fluoridating water are plain to see. Babies have died and will continue to die while privileged misinformed adults insist it's 'their right' to go their own way against science.

Because remember: on the one hand there is science, and there is no other hand.

I repeat: adults, do your job.