health

"These Leunig works may be framed as cartoons but they are not funny."

Michael Leunig is at it again.

This time he has published a ‘cartoon’ claiming vaccination is enforced “mass medication” and labeling pro-immunisation legislation a “Fascist epiphany”. The Victorian legislation, which he is commenting on, will require children to be fully immunised before they attend childcare or kindergarten. It exempts children who cannot be immunised for medical reasons (and there are very few who would qualify for that).

In previous ‘cartoons’, Leunig has implied that a mother’s instincts might protect her children against vaccination.

I have three children and have been a GP for over 30 years. Anyone who knows me is very aware that I have highly developed protective instincts for my family, my friends and for my patients.

I am also deeply involved in integrative medicine where I look at the evidence supporting medical and complementary therapies to assess what treatments are best and safest in healthcare. I am constantly looking at the available evidence for risks and benefits of immunisation and I unequivocally believe that the benefit outweighs any risk for individuals and for populations. That is pretty much unanimous amongst my medical colleagues, and the vast majority of Australian parents agree too. As of May 2015, 92.16% of Australian children at the age of five years are fully immunised.

leunig anti-vaxx cartoons
The Leunig cartoon in question.

These Leunig works may be framed as cartoons but they are not funny. Nor are they just benign amusement. The preventable diseases in the childhood immunisation schedule are highly contagious and very dangerous.

Childhood immunisation is not just about protecting the child who is being immunised either. If a child or a vulnerable adult catches a disease like measles or pertussis or diphtheria, they could die.

By keeping the number of children who are protected from these infections as high as possible, we are reducing the likelihood of the spread of those diseases.

My own grandparents lost their first child to a vaccine-preventable disease, so for as long as I can remember my family narrative has been one of appreciation for immunisation and a case of “if only it had been available back then…”.

leunig anti-vaxx cartoons
Another of Leunig’s cartoons depicting vaccination as a contravention of maternal instincts.
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It could be said that the anti-immunisation lobby is a luxury of a generation that has largely been spared the agony of the loss of a child from a vaccine-preventable disease. I wouldn’t even mind so much if their objections were based on decent scientific arguments. Unfortunately though, the anti-vax territory is littered with misinformation and baseless scare-mongering.

The infuriating thing is that Michael Leunig is not arguing from the perspective of the benefits or otherwise of immunisation per se. He is arguing from the perspective of parents who want a choice about whether their children are immunised.

Here is the choice: if you choose not to immunise you are choosing to expose your child to preventable infections and you are also choosing to expose other people to your child if they are infected with a vaccine-preventable disease.

leunig anti-vaxx cartoons
Professor Kerryn Phelps has been a doctor for over 30 years.

If you choose not to immunise your child, this legislation says that the government is choosing for you not to expose your child to a childcare or kindergarten environment which, as we parents all know, are hothouses for the transmission of infectious disease. It doesn’t matter how cute your child is, you can’t expect to be able to drop them into the middle of a group of other people’s children and place your child or someone else’s child in harm’s way.

Unless we maintain high levels of immunisation in the community, we will see the tragedies of more serious illness and deaths that could have been prevented.

What sort of choice is that?

Professor Kerryn Phelps’ latest book, The Cancer Recovery Guide, is available for purchase now.

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