Anti-vaccination: Byron Bay is a hotspot for low rates

The mums of the Australian town with the worst vaccination rates believe they are the victims.

The beachside town of Byron Bay has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country — and it’s taking a toll on children’s education.

Last night’s 7.30 examined the impact of the “anti-vax” movement in northern NSW.

The Mt Warning Community preschool, 60km north of Byron Bay, is struggling, with almost half the children unvaccinated.

Under new state government rules, their unvaccinated siblings will be banned from enrolling in preschool as part of its “No Jab, No Play” policy. This has fuelled concerns young kids are missing their vital preschool education due to their parents’ choices.

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It also poses a threat to children who are vaccinated, who could also be affected if their local preschools have to close.


Northern NSW is a hot spot for low vaccination rates. Source: News Corp.

Vaccinations save lives

Vaccinations protect young children from 16 serious infections including measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, haemophilus influenzae type B disease, hepatitis B, rotavirus, chickenpox, meningococcal disease, influenza and pneumococcal disease.

Be strict about bedtime. A study published in 2013 in the journal Pediatrics found that seven-year-olds who had irregular bedtimes had more behavioral problems than did those with consistent bedtimes. And the longer the lack of a strict bedtime went on, the worse the problems became. If you work outside the home, it's tempting to keep kids up to have more time with them. But as much as possible, stay the course—even if that means you sometimes miss lights out. "We all make sacrifices," says Heather Taylor, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Morrissey-Compton Educational Center, in Redwood City, California. "Call or video-chat to say good night. Just be part of the routine."

Despite this, northern NSW is a hotspot for anti-vaccination, with about a third of children unvaccinated, compared with a national average of just over 5 per cent. Nationally, 94.62 per cent of five-year-olds are vaccinated.

Still, parents who choose not to immunise their children stand firmly by their choice.

“I don’t think it’s fair, to be honest,” non-vaccinating mother Katharina Gorka told 7.30 . “It makes me feel like we’re a bit secluded from society.

“I have a set opinion on vaccinations and that’s not gonna change.”


Katharina Gorka can't send her son to preschool because he's not vaccination. Source: ABC 730.

Mum loses newborn to whopping cough

Anti-vaxxers have made an industry out of the movement. From natural therapists to organic food stores, wellness coaches and yoga tents, it’s become something of a lifestyle.

Preschools say the “No Jab, No Play” pre-exclusion policy has encouraged some parents to vaccinate their children. But many of them just won’t budge.

Byron mother Toni McCaffery told the public broadcaster her baby died as a result of whooping cough.

“My four-week-old baby coughed and coughed and coughed and coughed and coughed and coughed, which seemed like for minutes, and went blue, stopped breathing and passed out in my arms and the hospital staff very calmly took her from me and put oxygen on her face and said, ‘Yup, classic whooping cough,’” she said.

Give appropriate praise. Instead of simply saying, "You're great," try to be specific about what your child did to deserve the positive feedback. You might say, "Waiting until I was off the phone to ask for cookies was hard, and I really liked your patience."

Her baby girl, Dana, died in 2009 at Lismore Hospital.

Ms McCaffery is now part of the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters, a group which helps to promote informed debate about immunisation.

On the state government’s new policy, she said: “I know it sounds like tough love, but these diseases can and do kill. These policies are all about keeping childcare in preschools safer to protect our most vulnerable.”

Baby getting vaccinated.

Government are getting strict with new policies penalising parents who don't vaccinate. Source: iStock.

Parents are penalised for not vaccinating

In July this year, the Federal Government introduced a new program penalising parents for not vaccinating their children, under which Family Tax Benefit Part A payments would cop a fortnightly $28 reduction for each unvaccinated child.

“Immunisation is the safest way to protect children from vaccine-preventable diseases,” then-Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan said in a statement.

“Parents who don’t immunise their children are putting their own kids at risk as well as the children of other people.”

Serve a food again and again. If your child rejects a new dish, don't give up hope. You may have to offer it another six, eight, or even 10 times before he eats it and decides he likes it.

He said getting less cash would be a “constant reminder” of the importance of vaccinating.

Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters co-ordinator Heidi Robertson said the policy is having a gradual but positive effect.

“Vaccination rates have increased and they have increased slowly, but they continue to go up every time new data comes out,” she said.

“In a region like ours where nothing else has worked, this seems to be the one thing that has worked.”