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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1993 Week 08 Hansard (Thursday, 19 August 1993) . . Page.. 2528 ..

Discussion of Matter of Public Importance

MADAM SPEAKER: I have received a letter from Mrs Grassby proposing that a matter of public importance be submitted to the Assembly for discussion, namely:

The importance for community and individual health of universal vaccination and immunisation programs in preventing the spread of disease and maintaining public health.

MRS GRASSBY (3.22): Madam Speaker, the MPI that I have submitted today is about preventing the spread of disease and infection through immunisation and vaccination. I would, however, like to give some background to the massive decreases in mortality rates and increases in life expectancy over the last 200 years. Generally, I think they can all be attributed to the success of government action. This action can broadly be placed into four categories, all of which can be said to be public health measures. It is not so long ago that childhood diseases threatened the lives of many children in our community. It is one of the great achievements of medical science that we have been able to identify the causes of those diseases and manufacture vaccines to prevent them. No longer are epidemics of those childhood diseases common. Some diseases, such as polio, are now very rarely heard of.

The solution to the problem has been not just in the discovery of vaccines to prevent these illnesses but in the application of those vaccines. Mass immunisation programs have delivered these benefits. Without mass immunisation many children would still be vulnerable to childhood diseases. Mr Stevenson, who, unfortunately, is not here today to hear this, seems to think that immunisation is a matter of freedom of choice. It is not; not when the lives of innocent children are put at risk because irresponsible individuals like Mr Stevenson peddle this League of Rights nonsense. In the early part of my life I was a nurse and I have seen at first hand the problems caused by failure to vaccinate children. Mr Stevenson could not understand the difficulty of a doctor explaining to a parent that their child has brain damage or will never walk again just because the child had not been vaccinated.

Madam Speaker, one of the long-term effects of mass immunisation is that people become complacent. Because epidemics are not common, people sometimes forget to have their children vaccinated. Others believe that vaccination is no longer necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth. We now have a new threat. Levels of immunisation in our community are falling. This will leave us once again vulnerable. Immunisation has prevented more suffering and saved more lives than any other medical intervention in this century. It is one of the safest and most effective procedures in modern medicine. It is also the most cost efficient.

The National Health and Medical Research Council childhood immunisation schedule aims to control and, hopefully, in some cases eliminate eight vaccine-preventable diseases. These include diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps and rubella, and the new scourge, haemophilis influenza B, or HIB. This Government supports moves to ensure that the maximum number of children possible are immunised. These include the recommended childhood immunisation schedule, national immunisation targets,

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