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Inside Story
Are children at risk from vaccines?
We ask if parents concerned over purported risks of immunisation are right to reject vaccination for their offspring.
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2012 08:17

It was over 200 years ago that Edward Jenner, the pioneer of the smallpox vaccination, was able to protect a man from the dreaded disease smallpox through vaccination.

Since then, through mass immunisation efforts, smallpox has been eradicated from the planet.

"All drugs, all medicines are associated with side-effects in some patients to some extent. But the idea that there are serious risks associated with vaccines … simply hasn't been borne out by the facts no matter how hard people have tried to make that story stand up. [Also], attempts from central government to enforce vaccination policies don't really work."

- Brian Deer, investigative journalist

Vaccinations have eliminated polio from much of the world, and controlled many diseases that once maimed or killed in large numbers.

But in recent years, a growing number of parents have been expressing concern about immunisation.

Some are refusing to vaccinate their children because of what they have heard or read.

Medical experts across the world say all their research shows that there is no evidence of a link with conditions like autism and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

In Australia, the government has decided to take increased action.

Already, there is a penalty for not vaccinating your children – losing out on tax benefits.

Under new rules, some families could lose over $2,000 for each child not fully immunised.

Is this the right approach? Are the risks of vaccinations small compared with the health risks associated with the diseases they are intended to prevent?

Joining Inside Story with presenter James Bays to discuss these issues are guests: Brian Deer, an investigative journalist known for inquiries into the drug industry, medicine and social issues for the Sunday Times of London; and Adam Finn, the head of the Academic Unit of Child Health at Bristol Medical School and honorary consultant in paediatric infectious diseases and immunology at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, and the head of the Bristol Children's Vaccine Centre.

"There are a number of reasons why it is so easy to amplify these false allegations about vaccines. Firstly, vaccines are a victim of their own success. As people no longer see the diseases [that have been eradicated] it is much easier to focus on the apparent side-effects and to forget about the real tangible benefits that exists from receiving the vaccines."

Adam Finn, a professor at Bristol Medical School

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