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Top scientist calls for compulsory vaccinations

Parents should not be given the choice to vaccinate their child, Professor Ian Frazer tells a Sydney audience. By Linda Belardi.

The public has a right to vaccinations and parents who fail to comply should be fined, says a leading research scientist and former Australian of the Year.

The creator of the world's first cervical cancer vaccine, Professor Ian Frazer, said that the substantial risk of epidemic infection made it a serious public health issue.

"It eventually becomes a societal decision, just like wearing seatbelts; you get a fine if you don't. If you don't vaccinate your kids, you should get fined."

Although it was acknowledged that it may appear to be a "drastic measure", it was justified on the account that it was ultimately in the public interest.

Frazer said a call for mandatory vaccination of children was also supplemented by the ample evidence of the benefits. "We know that the evidence says that vaccinations work and there is a small risk that is associated, but it's miniscule in comparison with the risk of infection," he told a public lecture at the University of NSW.

However, he limited his views to the vaccination decisions made on the behalf of children, as he sees parental choice about a child's future as problematic. "I don't really think that should be their choice."

Frazer said that it was the "the 5 or 10 per cent of people who, for ideological, or for other reasons, want to believe something else" that resemble the most significant stumbling block to achieving adequate rates of vaccination.

"The real risk I perceive with the anti-vaccine lobbying is the one that's a reality in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The immunisation rates in this country dropped below 60 or 70 per cent and then we get an epidemic with a serious infection."

Complacency was also common among generations who had not experienced the devastation of an epidemic. "Personal experience is the best form of education ... [These generations] will not feel so inclined to vaccinate their children because they don't have that personal experience."

"Immunisation rates go up dramatically after an epidemic of measles. It was shown in Victoria in 1986 and again in 1997."
He said education campaigns directed at the young were important public health strategies. "

[Whether] you're talking about sun protection, cancer protection, stopping smoking, vaccination ... whatever the public health measure is, you've got to start early because that's when you've got some chance of getting the message across."

The former Australian of the Year said the development and commercialisation of vaccines was influenced more by money and risk than the benefit generated to the public. "The real cost of a vaccine is demonstrating that it's safe."

While Frazer's vaccine, Gardasil, is widely available to the public, other beneficial vaccines have been shelved because of even small amounts of risk.

"Even though [a vaccine] would have saved 100 lives for every 100,000 doses given in the developing world, the fact that one child might have experienced a complication in the developed world was enough to kill the product."

"It's worth remembering that this is all about money, risk and not the end utility to the community."

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