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Vaccination: the choice made for others

Vaccination: the choice made for others

People frequently ask Civil Liberties Australia about the rights/wrongs of vaccination. This statement/article sets out our formal stance, and explains why and how far we support proven immunisation campaigns, as well as withdrawal of children from pre-schools and the like if important to prevent medical emergencies.

Vaccinate: the choice made for others

 By Bill Rowlings, CEO, and Tim Vines, Director and National Media Spokesperson

 Civil Liberties Australia is occasionally asked to state our position on the vaccination debate. Like most civil liberties issues, the question comes down to balancing rights: in this case, the rights of the child, the rights of children generally, the rights of the parent to make decisions for the child, and the rights of the state to make decisions for all children.

 Vaccination is an unusual issue, because the parent confronts a decision that has immediate potential impact on his/her own child, but also an equivalent potential impact on all other children the child frequently comes into contact with: siblings, cousins, friends, playmates, pre-school companions, schoolmates. For that reason, the usual straight line question: “Does freedom of choice apply?” is nuanced with an overlay of “What are the individual’s responsibilities to other children?” and “What is the responsibility of the state?”

 CLA assumes everyone wants the best for the child/children, and we’re not dealing here with “nutters” so rabidly anti-vaccination that they can’t hold a reasonable discussion.  Given that is so, the question becomes whether you place more importance on the rights of children generally over the rights of an individual child.

 The rights of a child are not the same as the rights of its parents over that child.

The child has a right to health, independent of the right of a parent to adopt measures for her or his child that accord with the parent’s view.

CLA believes that a child has a right to immediate vaccination in the face of an imminent and preventable illness (for example, Hep B for children born to mothers who have the disease) and has a right to a ‘best chance’ at life, which would support the well-tested schedule of childhood vaccinations.

Parents have a responsibility to act in the ‘best interests’ of the child (this is a formal responsibility on a parent under the Convention on Rights of the Child).

CLA’s position allows children (and their parents) to make their own decision on some types of vaccines, especially those that come later in life, such as the HPV[1] vaccine (which isn’t life saving in the same way Hep B, tetanus or whooping cough vaccines can be). It also allows parents a way to opt-out of ‘new’ and less-tested vaccines such as seasonal influenza.

 CLA believes the rights of all children in a community/locale generally prevail over the rights of a local individual child, especially in the case of life-saving vaccinations such as Hep B, diphtheria, measles, mumps and whooping cough. We believe this is the case because scientific and medical evidence shows that vaccination is safe and effective and that, when a child contracts a “customary” childhood disease, vaccinated children resist it much better than children not vaccinated.

 Where a large number of parents has opted out of vaccination in the one locale, the impact on society can be profound, as in the case of Australian baby Dana McCaffery[2], who died after being exposed to whooping cough as a child (she was too young herself to be vaccinated against it). The larger the number of opt-outs, the much-increased risk that one unvaccinated child will start an epidemic which becomes widespread: see Swansea, Wales, April-May 2013.

 Turning to the right of the state to intervene and make rules and regulations, as well as laws, on behalf of children generally, Civil Liberties Australia believes that it is the state’s responsibility, beyond its clear right, to enforce vaccination of children with vaccines that are scientifically and medically proven to be sound, effective and overwhelmingly beneficial to children and the state.

 This responsibility to act proactively on behalf of the whole community applies, CLA believes, even if there is a statistical possibility of a child being infected with a disease through the vaccinations process.  I have met and spoken at length with a now-40yo woman, living in Australia, who was the “1 in a million” child who caught polio from a polio vaccination in India: she remains a vocal supporter of all children being immunised against polio, because of the benefits to the other 999,999 who did not get polio, says Bill Rowlings.

 (Note: it is not possible – not even 1 in a million – to catch polio from the type of vaccine now used in Australia, which is based on the Salk ‘dead’-polio vaccine)

 Here are the replies Civil Liberties Australia has given recently to two questions, basically asking about similar issues of choice in relation to medical matters:

 QUESTION: Our concern is that the government is edging closer to making it mandatory to have vaccinations whether parents want them or not. Thus taking away the individual rights to our own free choice.  We believe the right to choose is paramount and would like the opinion/statement of the CLA.

 CLA’s reply:

 Thank you for the opportunity of allowing us to explain our position. Civil Liberties Australia supports government vaccination programs for children.

 One person’s right to choose needs to be balanced against the right of another person not to have disease inflicted on a child when a disease could be avoided by undertaking a health program which is freely available. Our formal response to you on this matter includes this link to an article in The Guardian on 30 April 2013 – – which describes a measles epidemic affecting more than 1000 people in Swansea, Wales, because parents chose not to vaccinate children.

 We also believe:

  • Children should not be punished for the actions of their parents, however misguided. As such, an unvaccinated young child should be allowed to attend child care/school whenever possible.
  • However, as school has a duty of care to all students (vaccinated or not), it is right and proper for a school or childcare centre to send home an unwell, unvaccinated child regardless of the apparent severity of the illness. A school should also have the right to exclude unvaccinated children from school when there is a suspected outbreak of a vaccine-preventable illness (measles, whooping cough etc) in the community.
  • Only a small percentage (about 1.5%) of parents refuse to vaccinate their children on principle. Most don’t vaccinate their children because they forget or are short on money. Government measures like school exclusion and tax breaks in support of vaccination are designed to help parents remember and to pay for vaccination. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children on principle therefore do not deserve these government rebates.

 Thanks again for asking us.


‘NSW Parliament/HCCC legislation threat to anyone who uses Natural Therapies…‘

The above is the headline of the AVN’s newsletter with too many explanations for me to fill in this space…. It is worrying that the NSW Govt is intent to changing this legislation. To stipulate that everyone can only talk about and use anything to do with Health ONLY what the Government approves. Nat Therapies have been around for a lot longer than the Pharmaceutical Coy and their many times very dangerous drugs. We have priest abusing children that is obvious and people shouting for justice, why are our Governments instead of trying to criminalise natural health not going after these criminals hiding in behind a church? Please can you do something to stop this madness….??? Please check the ABVN’s website for their full report FYI.

 CLA’s reply:

 We were not aware of the particular legislation you mention. However, we note that Australian Skeptics has a recent article backgrounding it:

 We cannot see how such legislation would be a “threat to anyone who uses natural therapies”. People would remain free to exercise free choice to use natural therapies if they wish.

 We cannot see how the legislation would “stipulate that everyone can only talk about and use anything to do with health ONLY what the Government approves”.

People would be free to talk about and use anything they like.  People would not (repeat, not) be free to make medical/health claims they cannot back up with evidence, which seems to us to be a reasonable requirement.

 We cannot see how “our Governments are…trying to criminalise natural health”.

 Thank you for the suggestion, but we have checked the AVN website previously: from memory, the website is stridently anti-vaccination of children. We support childhood immunisation with vaccines that have proven effectiveness, demonstrated by proper trials and/or decades of positive outcomes.

 We understand that the NSW Government believes that the Australian Vaccination Network name is “misleading and a detriment to the community”. We agree with that assessment. We agree with the NSW Government’s attempt to require the organisation to change its name to protect the public.

 We are sure you will be interested in a fuller background on the AVN:

 We are sure you will be interested in the 5 May and 30 April 2013 news from Wales

Swansea measles outbreak passes 1000 (actually 1170 feared, 370 of 850 samples tested have been confirmed)…containing this reporting:

Dr Marion Lyons, PHW director of health protection, said: 

“Those not vaccinated are highly likely to catch measles, which is highly contagious. It is just a matter of time before a child is left with serious and permanent complications such as eye disorders, deafness or brain damage, or dies.”

 The MMR vaccine is recommended by the World Health Organisation, UK Department of Health and Public Health Wales as the most effective and safe way to protect children against measles.

It would appear that the headline in the AVN newsletter may be more of a threat to truth than to people’s use of effective natural therapies, which remains a matter of personal choice right now, and would under the proposed legislation, so far as we are aware. The proposed legislation would only curtail people making extravagant and unproven claims, on our reading.

 Thank you for alerting us that the AVN is apparently spreading misleading information about the proposed legislation.

NOTE (April 2015): Civil Liberties Australia believes education and encouragement is a better way to ensure widespread vaccination than financial coercion, though we agree the state may insist on some desired action if it distributes money selectively* to particular groups, such as requiring people receiving certain payments to vaccinate. CLA believes vaccination should be offered in child-care, especially if it’s a precondition of a child-care benefit. We are also concerned that what the government thinks is a simple decision may split families: the government may need to review the Family Law Act to provide guidance to courts/parents where there are joint custody arrangements and one parent refuses to provide joint consent to vaccination.
* It is often middle and upper-middle class parents who chose not to vaccinate their children (and they may not be eligible for childcare assistance), so that the penalty over time is likely to be less effective than the government thought when announcing the new policy. We reiterate that child care centres should have the right to exclude children in times of medical concern and emergency, even if the children are exempt from a vaccination requirement due to religious reasons.

[1] Human papilloma virus: causes most female cancers and penis/anus cancers in men, and genital warts.


  1. To all of the people complaining about the CLA stance on vaccines:

    1. There is absolutely NO evidence that vaccines cause autism, or any other of the terrible side-effects you wish to blame them for.
    2. Yes, vaccines once contained a form of mercury. They do not contain it now.
    3.You cannot ‘overload’ a baby’s immune system with vaccines – or if you do, you’re Doing It Wrong(TM).
    4. Look at the SCIENCE! Not the woo, not ex-doctor Wakefield who didn’t ‘believe’ in ethics; NO scientific study – and plenty have been conducted – has found a meaningful link between childhood vaccination and Bad Things Happening.
    5. Stop listening to the quacks at the Australian anti-Vaccination Network.

    “But this affects my individual liberties”.

    1. Yes.
    2. You are a member of a community, and do not have rights without responsibilities. I suggest that if you do not want to vaccinate your children, you lose all the rights and responsibilities that apply in this community. Bye – let me know (probably by note in a bottle – if you took a bottle and notepad with you) how you’re going.
    3. Have a look at the victims of these conditions that are now extremely rare and could be vanquished entirely without the fools and their anti-vaxx fables. Have a look what these conditions did to people only fifty or sixty years ago, and compare that to what we have today! Then tell me again why you should have the right to say no?

    Then we have probabilities. Yes, your child might be fine if they are un-vaccinated but live in a cloud of vaccinated people. No, you are not doing the right thing for your community. Just as importantly, what happens when everyone decides that ‘it’s fine – someone else will carry the can on this one’? What an incredibly self-defeating argument.

    Sorry, but there is NO reasonable argument to support not protecting children from avoidable disease. None!

    As for CLA’s policy, I suggest it needs to rethink how it views the HPV vaccine. Parents are imposing their morality on their teenage children, and in doing so sentencing many to avoidable deaths! “No, my daughter doesn’t need that because she WILL NOT be having sex before marriage and neither will her future spouse”.

    This is the same ignorance that sees southern US states ban sex education and have the highest rate of STDs and teen pregnancies. Parents should not have that choice, while the child is still too young to make a sensible decision (the human brain matures at around 30 years). HPV should be mandatory for all young girls and boys – the virus is readily passed by the male.

  2. I think you made a really good point about the impact of vaccinations. It not only affects the child but all the other people they come in contact with. I think that some parents might not think about this when they are considering skipping vaccinations. Personally, I’m looking for a good vaccination program so my kids can stay up to date with their shots.

  3. Just to refer back to your own policies “We stand for people’s rights, and go in to bat for everyone’s civil liberties.” So who does ‘everyone’ apply to?

    “We monitor police and security forces, and the actions and inaction of politicians. We review proposed legislation, to make it better, and keep watch on government departments and agencies.” So are you watching who is profiting from immunisation and their relationship to government? Just google Bill Gates ‘foundation’ and personal GlaxoSmithKlyne shares to start connecting dots, you’ll see some lovely pictures of their testing results on the African poor.

    “We work to keep Australia the free and open society it has traditionally been, where you can be yourself without undue interference from ‘authority’.” I don’t feel free being told (or coerced, or encouraged or whatever pretty word to pretend we have a choice) I have to do something to my child for which there is a mountain of evidence to suggest the known and potential harm to both the individual and community, and especially the potential unknown long term effects. As they say, 1984 is not an instruction manual…supposedly.

    Lynette Correy
  4. So if you’re all so concerned for the rights of the child, where is there right for a baby to form a strong immune system, when jabbed so early, and for children to continue building a strong system…do some more research, not funded by interested greed…what does cancer attack…the immune system?? Any warning bells?? Good on you Bill and Tim…you’re both in the slumber of the masses, not sure why you bother with this organisation. The only argument is whether the overall health of the child and community is improved as a direct result of immunisation, and there’s enough evidence to show not so to apply the precautionary principle, or at least create an independent system of research and immunisation on a NON-PROFIT basis if our dear caring government and people like yourselves are so concerned about the fledging masses. Oh, that isn’t how our government or society operates though is it…economics dictate to government dictate to the simple people. Go and do something decent for the world, clean up some rubbish or something.

    Lynette Correy
  5. James Fairbairn: “In the same time innumerable vaccinated children had severe adverse reactions and/or were diagnosed with autism which may, or may not be linked to the vaccine…”

    There is absolutely no evidence linking the MMR vaccine to autism. The one study that claimed to show such a link has been thoroughly discredited, and withdrawn by the journal in which it was originally published.

    steve: “the people promoting vaccination should brush up on their publicity skills and provide evidence of the need for vaccination…”

    When’s the last time somebody died from smallpox? There’s your ‘need for vaccination’ right there!

    “The un vaxinated benefit from inability of disease to spread among other people.” Only for as long as the rest of us keep doing the right thing and vaccinating our children. If too many people listen to anti-vax lies, how long do you think your kids will be safe then?

  6. I support the CLA stance here. For my mind this debate is more about the rights of children and the community to be as disease free as possible, rather than the rights of parents to choose whether their child should be vaccinated.

  7. And another civil liberties implication was revealed a few weeks ago in The Telegraph with plans for a global internet monitoring system to stalk social media users who question safety of vaccines. The pharmaceutical industry will be using big brother technology in order to identify and immediately quash any questioning of the safety of its products. Surely not the kind of corporate behaviour that CLA could condone?

    (Ed: This is what the article quoted says:

    SPURIOUS and unscientific claims about the dangers of vaccines can now be tracked as soon as they appear on social media around the world.

    British and American scientists have developed a computerised monitoring system which alerts experts to quickly spreading rumours, outright lies, misinformation, and legitimate public concerns, about vaccinations in 144 countries including Australia.

    “Recent measles outbreaks in the UK, stemming from children not-vaccinated due to fears prompted by now-discredited research over a decade ago, is one example of the long-term consequences of broken public trust in vaccines” lead author Heidi Larson, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in the UK, said.)

    James Fairbairn
  8. I am a little surprised that CLA has taken this stand. Whilst I have vaccinated my own child and believe that vaccination is generally a good thing, I thought that the role of CLA was to speak out against government interference in our lives. I don’t believe CLA is qualified to comment on medical issues generally and their stance should be to support the individuals choice when it comes to health care, not the governments power to coerce people.
    To support government compulsion seems to be a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line on “proven and effective” and “balancing the rights of the individual over those of the community”.
    I believe that if CLA can’t in good conscience support parents rights to decide on health care for their children, then they should simply remain silent on the matter.

    (Note: CLA frequently speaks out in support of government when they make wise choices which deserver public support – Ed.)

    Rhys Jones
  9. You refer to the measles vaccine in the UK. It should be noted that after the so called “MMR scare” in the late 90’s/early 00’s there was a significant downturn in the vaccination rate. In the subsequent decade one person died in the UK from measles, and they were already medically compromised and living in a travellers camp. In the same time innumerable vaccinated children had severe adverse reactions and/or were diagnosed with autism which may, or may not be linked to the vaccine due to the virus’ effect on the gut. Measles, in a healthy Western society is not a fatal disease. In the recent “South Wales Outbreak” there have been no recorded fatalities, and yet sales of the vaccine have rocketed.

    The is the real decision that parents should make is one of probability – What is the probability of fatality from being unvaccinated, against the probability of severe adverse reaction by taking the vaccine? The probabilities for the polio vaccine will be vastly different than those of say the MMR and HPV vaccines. This is the real decision for papernts, and it should be parents and not the state that decide.

    With many billions of dollars of corporate revenue at stake, unfortunately don’t expect a level playing field when the media or government deal with this subject. In particular when looking at the all too real risks that some vaccines come with, particularly those which are for generally non-fatal diseases in healthy populations.

    James Fairbairn
  10. I disagree with mandatory vaccinations – It may be advisable for people but that is really up to them – the people promoting vaccination should brush up on their publicity skills and provide evidence of the need for vaccination – obviously “free vaccination” is helpful and certainly for the tax payer is money well spent if there really is a risk. The un vaxinated benefit from inability of disease to spread among other people. But they should not be financially penalised if they do not get their children vaccinated they are after all funding everyone else.

    There may be circumstances like when travelling that travel agents or passport holders receive information about vaccinations that may be helpful when travelling. I suspect if a targeted approach were taken even low average rates would not be problematic. Diagnosis and detection of diseases early can prevent it’s spread – medical technology is improving. I think any policy needs to recognise medical advances alter the equation. We know what causes disease, how it can spread and – a policy of extreme compulsion is not the answer. New bugs appear all the time – some people will get fed up with the endless and probably needless vaccination panic every time a new pathogen is reported in the news.

    Needs to be some common sense here.


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