Page 910 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 22 March 2017

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I commend Mrs Kikkert for bringing forward this important motion. I was aware of the backwards and forwards between Mrs Kikkert’s office and the minister’s office about the minister’s amendment, which I think has got to about the right place. I commend Mrs Kikkert for bringing this to the Assembly and thank the minister for her cooperation in the matter.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (4.23): I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important matter this afternoon. Immunisation is one of the most successful public health initiatives ever developed and the Greens join health and scientific experts in absolutely supporting immunisation as a safe, proven and critical preventative health measure. However, I rise today to propose an amendment to this motion because I have concerns about the no jab no play principles and their effect on disadvantaged families. I will speak more to these concerns in a moment.

First, let me outline why immunisations are so important for the health of individuals and the broader community. Before the major vaccination campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s, diseases like tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough killed thousands of young children each year. Today, deaths from these diseases are extremely rare in Australia, as other members have noted, and across many parts of the world as well. It is estimated that immunisations currently save up to three million lives worldwide each year.

In Australia, and particularly here in the ACT, immunisation rates are high and have been increasing over recent years. According to the Australian immunisation register, almost 95 per cent of 12 to 15-month-olds in the ACT are fully immunised. At 24 to 27 months, the rate is 92 per cent, and for 60 to 63-month-olds the rate is 94 per cent.

While these figures are encouraging, and in all cases above the national average, we can do better and we should be wary of the consequences of complacency. It is easy to forget the horrifying effects of many of the life-threatening illnesses that are now a distant memory in Australia thanks to the success of immunisations. Not only do vaccines offer protection for individuals who are immunised; there is also a community benefit, again, as other members have touched on today.

If enough people are immunised against a disease, an infection will not be able to spread across the population, and this protects vulnerable members of our community. These include children who are too young to be vaccinated, people with immune system problems, pregnant women and those too ill to receive vaccines. This feature, known as herd immunity, is achieved at different levels for each disease, but the required immunisation level can be as high as 95 per cent for some highly infectious diseases. On the other side of the story, as vaccination coverage rates drop, the risk of disease outbreak increases.

From a public health perspective, there is a clear need to boost vaccination rates. The question is how best to achieve this. When considering this question, we need to understand the different reasons why parents may not vaccinate their children. There is a very small percentage of people who have genuine medical reasons for not vaccinating their children, and these children are the ones who need protection

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