health

"Where I live, being pro-vaccination makes me a weirdo."

When it comes to immunisation there are only two positions. You either vaccinate or you don’t.

People who vaccinate think people who don’t vaccinate are self important, “it’s-my-choice,’ natural-health-obsessed, middle-class hipsters causing harm to their children, and everyone else’s.

People who don’t vaccinate think that people who do vaccinate are government pansies, brainwashed into poison-injecting compliance, causing harm to their own children and wanting to cause harm to their children as well.

There is no middle ground, I know. I live in Mullumbimby. I have five children, all of them vaccinated.

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Mandy Nolan.

And unlike the rest of the nation, in my country town vaccinating is not the norm. Where I live, being a vaxxer makes me the weirdo. It can even see your baby’s amber beads forcibly removed and have you booted out of your mother’s group right on your gluten-free glutes.

You see, my hometown has the lowest immunisation rate of anywhere else in Australia. According to an ABC report, we have lower vax rates than South Sudan. Want the thrill of going to Africa but can’t afford the airfare? Come to Mullumbimby. Yep, your baby would be at less risk of whooping cough in a third world country than they would be in our rolling hills.

Beautiful one day, phlegm-chokingly contagious the next.

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Mandy Nolan.
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So why don’t my community go in for the jab? It’s simple. People here don’t trust the government. There is a curious irony, because many of the deeply suspicious are also deeply dependent on the very same government for financial support. I suspect it’s part of a conspiratorial mindset that goes hand in hand with a previous penchant for pot (hence ‘rolling hills’) resulting in some pretty extreme levels of paranoia. It’s part of the counter culture creed.

If it can’t be fixed by a poultice, some fermented cabbage or a coffee enema then you’re probably going to have call in the big boys and use an affirmation.

I often think that at our Welcome to Mullumbimby highway sign we need another sign, similar to the ones they use for bushfires, with a needle indicating elevating risk levels. Our current ‘government is spraying us with chemicals and giving us cancer to make money from their investment in big pharma’ levels are at ‘EXTREME’, yet to reach catastrophic.

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“You see, I have many many friends who don’t vaccinate their children.”
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As a government-brainwashed pro-vaxxer living in the hub of anti-vaxx I have learnt to keep my mouth shut. Most of the time.

You see, I have many many friends who don’t vaccinate their children. And while I don’t share their belief that vaccinations are autism creating poison, I still like them. I know, imagine enjoying the company of people you’d like to write off as complete idiots.

Many of them aren’t idiots, it’s just that they have an unchangeable mindset on an issue that I personally think is wrong. It makes conversation on the topic of vaccination impossible, because I think everything they say is conspiratorial unscientific crap — and they think everything I say is government propaganda masquerading as science.

They think they are making an informed decision for the wellbeing of their children. I think I have made an informed decision for the wellbeing of my children.

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“They think everything I say is government propaganda masquerading as science.”

When Ivy, my six-year-old, was born, I was a nervous wreck. It was April, or what is known in my area as ‘whooping cough season’. (Yes, we even have a season for it.)

My husband is a health professional who has nursed dying babies, so I was well aware of the risks. We asked people about their immunisation status at the door and if the uninjected wanted to gain entry for a baby viewing, they had to wear a mask and wash their hands or face an instant ejection. For almost 12 months we became obsessive hand washers. We all got our whooping cough boosters. I avoided large gatherings of children. I felt like a medieval mother living in a village awash with the bubonic plague. Anyone who cleared their throat or coughed was eyed suspiciously.

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We made it through the first year without even the slightest sniffle. Our fully-immunised infant was ready to face the world. I remember sitting at one of her early birthday parties watching nervously as one of my passionate pro-vaxx friends was chatting with one of my passionate anti-vaxx friends. They seemed to be getting on famously, both of them unaware of the silent incendiary of their immunisation polarisations. I feared an imminent explosion.There was nothing. They actually seemed to be getting on. One slight move onto conversation of immunisation and it would have turned ugly.

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It’s these kind of social gatherings where my two worlds collide that are the most anxiety-producing. I guess it would be simple to only have friends who thought exactly like me. But then that would require a kind of intolerance that I’m not comfortable with. While you can certainly wash your hands of certain friendships, you can’t immunise against intolerance. And intolerance is still this planet’s most lethal disease.

Mandy Nolan has performed as a stand-up comedian for 25 years. She is also a teacher, a writer, a journalist and a painter. Her humour is sharp, honest, sometimes self-depreciating, somewhat outrageous, but never cruel or pretentious. Her first book, What I Would Do If I Were You, is available now.

Do you live in an area with a lot of anti-vaxxers?

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