I consider myself to be a pretty healthy person so I’ve never bothered with a flu vaccination, but I’m seriously considering getting one next year.
Like many others, I fell for the myth that the vaccine can make you sick. But by immunising myself I can protect others around me who may not have such a strong immune system – young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
Having worked alongside a health organisation this year I’ve learned a lot about immunisation, and the measles outbreak we are currently experiencing scares me a little.
But maybe that’s what we need to get motivated to improve our rates of vaccination in this country – some scare tactics. Hold a mirror up to what these diseases we vaccinate against – measles, whooping cough, meningococcal disease – can actually do to us. I saw my flatmate die from meningococcal disease in London 20 years ago and it wasn’t pretty.
Throughout New Zealand just 77 per cent of six-month-old babies are receiving their vaccinations on time – coverage of 95 per cent is needed for population immunity.
In the Bay of Plenty vaccination rates have dropped to just 64.6 per cent of six-month-olds, and among Māori babies, just 52.7 per cent.
The anti-vaxx movement has been blamed for the low rates of vaccination, but people who work in the health sector say that is a “middle-class issue”. Accessibility to healthcare is seen as one of the biggest barriers in low socio-economic areas. Apathy is another biggie – some parents just haven’t got around to it.
The jury is out on whether using scare tactics as a form of communication actually works. Fear motivates some people, but not others. A more positive approach would involve being supportive and helping people find a way to get past their reasons for not vaccinating, not making them feel they are doing something wrong, or are bad parents.
But have we got time for that? New Zealand is on the verge of losing it’s World Health Organisation (WHO) measles ‘elimination’ status if disease numbers cannot be curbed by March next year.
Is it unreasonable to show the public the true consequences of infectious diseases – many of which have faded from the public mind because vaccines have made them less common?
The anti-vaxx movement uses scare tactics to push its cause and that seems to have been effective. The WHO recently named it one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.
Much of the current ‘Why immunise?’ promotion of immunisation by New Zealand health authorities is of a ‘gentle reminder’ nature, but there is one video featuring seven-year-old Auckland boy Alijah Williams who contracted tetanus in 2012 after getting a scratch on his foot and became seriously ill.
My kids are all immunised, but seeing the pictures and hearing his Dad, Ian, talk about how his decision not to immunise affected his son affected me nonetheless.
The video is also fronted by Hastings mother and GP, Dr Kiriana Bird, who presents a strong case for the benefits of immunisation.
It’s a little bit scary, and a little bit reassuring at the same time. I say ‘more of the same please’ and quickly.