Vaccination is a crucial part of maintaining a healthy community. The Australian government is putting steps in place to ensure this important process is preserved. The ‘No Jab, No Pay’ policy introduced in January of 2016, has resulted in families being refused government benefits if they do not comply with vaccination schedules. (1) There is no doubt higher vaccination rates are associated with fewer life threatening diseases. (2, 3) However, occasionally rare adverse reactions also accompany vaccination. (4)
It was saddening to hear about Ben Hammond, the young father that was left paralysed after receiving the BOOSTRIX vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is an autoimmune disease in which there is brain and spinal cord dysfunction. It is most commonly triggered by a viral or bacterial infection, however in rare cases can be initiated by vaccination. (5) It is interesting to note that there is no way of verifying the direct cause of this condition. Regardless, in Ben’s case the disease has left him with permanent disability, family trauma and financial insecurity. Currently in Australia there is no support for families affected by vaccination injury. However, other countries including the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand have adopted a national vaccine injury compensation scheme.
So the question is, should Australia do the same? The Immunisation Alliance says yes. It is important to realise that this tragedy represents an incredibly tiny proportion of those who receive vaccines and that the protective benefits far outweigh this miniscule risk. In this light, the government should back itself, introducing a support and compensation scheme for these extremely rare cases, alongside its highly successful initiatives such as “No Jab No Pay” and subsidised Pertussis (Whooping Cough) vaccinations for expectant mothers. The Immunisation Alliance will advocate to further this cause.
1. No Jab, No Pay fact sheet: New Immunisation Requirements for Family Assistance Payments. Canberra: Immunise Australia program; 2015. Available from: http://www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/67D8681A67167949CA257E2E000EE07D/$File/No-Jab-No-Pay.pdf
2. Immunise Australia Program. Why Immunise [internet]. Australian Government Department of Health; 2015. Available from: http://immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/why-immunise
3. Immunisation and vaccine preventable disease [internet]. The Royal college of Pathologists of Australasia; 2012. Available from: https://www.rcpa.edu.au/getattachment/72fd414e-8e44-40ec-bea2-19d2a52e2a2f/Immunisation-and-Vaccine-Preventable-Diseases.aspx
4. Observed rate of vaccine reactions: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus vaccines fact sheet. Switzerland: World Health Organisation; 2014. Available from: http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/initiative/tools/DTP_vaccine_rates_information_sheet.pdf?ua=1
5. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis [internet]. Available from: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Acute-Disseminated-Encephalomyelitis-Information-Page