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 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, 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.
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 – http://tiny.cc/40ciww – 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.
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.