Our Open Letter to Pauline Hanson on vaccination - Think before you speak

Dear Pauline,

I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to write this letter to you.

To be honest, I am incredibly confused and hope that you can clarify some things for me. I am a paediatric nurse, and I have some concerns regarding your recent comments on vaccination. Surely to make these statements you have researched thoroughly and sought expert opinion? Or perhaps you have held tiny babies with whooping cough in your arms, turning blue and gasping for breath, just like I have? Please explain.

My first point, the point which confuses me the most, is that you urge parents to “make sure that they have the right information” before heading to a doctor. Where precisely is this information to come from? Dr Google? Facebook friends? Your local MP? Last time I checked, your trusted family GP, child health nurse or paediatrician would be the best person to chat to about any concerns you may have about vaccines. All those years of education and access to evidence based practice must count for something, right? Informed decision? Absolutely. Reading “evidence” from so called studies that have been disproved time and time again? Not so informed.

Secondly, you said “If having vaccinations and having measles vaccinations, is actually going to stop these diseases, fine, no problems.”  If? Vaccines work. Take Polio for example. Australia has gone from having catastrophic polio outbreaks in the 1940’s and 50’s leaving thousands of survivors permanently disabled, to being declared Polio free in 2000. Since the introduction of rotavirus vaccines in Australia there has been a 60-70% reduction in rotavirus hospitalisation in children under the age of 5 years. Do you think that is just blind luck or may be something to do with the fact that vaccines do work?

One of the problems is herd immunity. Let me explain. Herd immunity is the protection of unvaccinated members of the population by the inability of a disease to spread due to the majority of the population being vaccinated.  Let’s face it, whether people like it or not, you wield power in this country of ours. You have many followers. Your poorly researched statements can and will cause so much damage. You have given fodder to those who will cling on to anything (fact or mistruth) to justify their decision making. If we do not have the majority of the population vaccinated, we cannot protect those who cannot be vaccinated for genuine medical reasons or age. I truly believe it is our responsibility as a community to protect those who cannot be immunised. Your opinions appear to negate this responsibility. Think about this next time you are on the campaign trail and you hold a newborn baby in your arms. Are you up to date with your immunisations?

Finally, thank you for acknowledging that your statement regarding testing to see if a child may be allergic to vaccines may not be based on fact. You said that you “heard a couple of doctors say that there is no test”. Hmm, once again, last time I checked, Michael Gannon, president of the Australian Medical Association, and many other experts in this field, are not just a couple of doctors.

Pauline, I implore you to research your topics thoroughly.  Spend a minute in the shoes of those parents who have lost their precious babies to whooping cough and other vaccine preventable diseases. Think about how your comments affect them? How many poorly informed parents may not vaccinate their child, impacted by your words? I just hope that it doesn’t result in holding another gasping, blue and breathless baby in my arms.

Sarah Hunstead

(PS. Thank you to Light for Riley and Immunisation Australia for the use of the photo. Riley Hughes tragically passed away from Pertussis (Whooping Cough) in March, 2015. His mum and dad started Immunisation Australia with an aim to protect other children and families from suffering a similar loss from a vaccine-preventable diseases.