With ‘conscientious objector’ figures rising across the country, Mamamia investigates the most prominent anti-vaxxer pockets in Australia.
Increasing numbers of parents are registering as ‘conscientious objectors’ to childhood vaccinations, according to government figures.
Health Department statistics reveal that last year, 39,523 children were recorded as conscientious objectors to vaccinations last year, out of more than 2.2 million total children on the department’s register.
While the most objections from any one state came from NSW last year, objectors were clustered in areas as diverse as inner-city Melbourne and the Adelaide Hills in South Australia –with immunisation rates in some pockets of the country remaining “lower than South Sudan”, according to Melbourne virologist Dr Dave Hawkes.
Shadow Health Minister Catherine King told Mamamia the low level of immunisation in these hot spots is “a cause for great concern”.
“In some of these communities fewer than half the population is fully vaccinated, which leaves their populations badly exposed to outbreaks of potentially deadly diseases,” she said.
“Worse, this loss of ‘herd immunity’ also exposes people too young, or too ill to be vaccinated, such as babies, and we’ve already seen tragic example of this in recent years.”
University of Sydney Associate Professor Julie Leask told Mamamia that while the vast majority of Australian parents did vaccinate their kids, certain pockets of parents believe “that the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits — despite what the science says”.
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“What we do know about the communities is that they tend to have beliefs, attitudes and concerns that lead them to not want to vaccinate or to delay or select out common vaccines,” she said. “The parents often have alternative lifestyles or use alternative healthcare and mistrust governments and the pharmaceutical industry.”
Ms Leask also pointed out that high rates of objection are not the same as areas with low vaccination rates — as there are other areas where children are unvaccinated because parents have’t gotten around to it, or because they have restricted access to medical resources.
With the Federal government’s proposed “no jab, no pay” policy dominating headlines all week, Mamamia set out to investigate the biggest anti-vaxxer “hotspots” across Australia — and whether the new laws are likely to have any effect on them.
Here’s what we dug up:
The highest number of conscientious objections to vaccination last year came from parents in NSW, who accounted for 9625 of the total objectors at the end of 2013.
A report from the National Health Performance Authority last year showed some of Australia’s lowest vaccination rates were in wealthy Sydney suburbs including Mosman, Manly, the inner city and the eastern suburbs — although the Richmond Valley area of North-Eastern NSW has one of the highest rates of vaccination objection in the country.
Areas of northern NSW like Lennox Head, Mullumbimby, Byron Bay and Nimbin have particularly high rates of unvaccinated children– hovering about 60-70% as of 2013, the Northern Star reports.
In Mullumimby in particular, only 46 to 49% of one, two and five-year-old kids are fully immunised, according to the most recent National Health Performance Authority, and around one-third of Australia register their objection to vaccinations, according to Associate Professor Leask. Those figures make Mullumbimby the town with the highest objection rate in Australia.
Three Steiner schools in northern NSW, including one in Mullumbimby, are also promoting parents’ choice to reject vaccinations in NSW, a report in the Daily Telegraph claimed this week.
But Mullumbimby Steiner School told Mamamia that while it “does not have a policy on vaccination as it believes such health issues are for parents to decide in conjunction with medical professionals”, but that each Steiner school adheres to health department guidelines.
“It is incorrect to suggest that high levels of non-vaccinated children in Northern NSW are specific to Steiner schools. The demographics of Northern NSW have led to high levels of unvaccinated children across all schools in that area,” an emailed statement said.
Other objector pockets in NSW included the state’s south coast, the Blue Mountains and Kempsey-Nambucca, the National Health Performance Authority reported in 2013.
Bad news for Queenslanders: The Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast and far-north Queensland are among the statistical regions with the highest rates of objection in the country.