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14 Mar 2018


Over the past few weeks, we have seen more commentary from ill-informed sources irresponsibly arguing against the need for immunisations. This misinformation comes at a time when it is reported that one in ten children are falling behind in their vaccinations.

The evidence is clear and undeniable – vaccinations work. They are the most effective way of protecting society from the devastating effects of some of the world’s most insidious diseases.

As medical practitioners, we must be ever-vigilant to counter the misguided anti-vax message with sound science and evidence-backed education. We should always be on top of keeping our patients informed of the value of vaccinating their children and themselves where appropriate.

Most recently, immunisation talk has turned to the topic of pregnant women.

What is absolutely essential is that pregnant women are advised by whoever is looking after them – a GP, an obstetrician, a midwife – to avail themselves of the free vaccination against influenza and whooping cough.

And, of course, we would then encourage those same mothers to have their children vaccinated according to the National Immunisation Program against things like diphtheria, tetanus and polio, measles, mumps, rubella.

We have now got protection at various stages in life against the top three causes of bacterial meningitis. These are good news stories.

We are trying to beat rheumatic heart disease. The way to do that is to develop a vaccine against the bacteria called group A strep. We are really excited about this. This is what's going on at an international level.

We’re trying to eliminate polio in the two countries on the planet where it still exists. And yet, back in Australia, I’m using evidence to debate vaccination-deniers on the internet and on social media about the benefits of vaccination. Sadly, there are lazy people who are heeding the false messages simply because they have not personally witnessed serious vaccine-preventable diseases. They are putting their children and the children of others at risk. We must keep up the good fight and actively promote vaccination.

Misinformation has not been limited to vaccination lately.

One high-profile Federal MP has energetically declared that everyone has the right to use hospital emergency departments as an alternative to paying to see a GP.

This is a silly and dangerous message to send to the community, especially at a time of potential significant health policy reform, which the AMA hopes will put an even greater focus on the central role of GPs in keeping people well.

GPs are specialists in primary care. They are a lot better trained for the kind of presentations the MP was talking about.

The reality is that most people do not pay if they see a GP. The bilk billing rate for GPs is around 85 per cent. The cost to the health system to see a GP is something like an average of $50. The same presentation to a hospital emergency department can cost the system hundreds of dollars.

The MP is pushing irresponsible advice. He’s wrong. He doesn’t understand the difference between emergency medicine and general practice.

We are very, very fortunate in Australia to have a highly trained, skilful, specialist GP workforce. These GPs represent better value for money than anything else I know in our community.

And let’s not forget the after-hours medical services that can go to a patient’s home, and that can also be bulk billed. They have an important role as well, and we are going to see some reforms in that area. There might have been a little bit of over-generous billing of so-called urgent item numbers. This is being addressed.

It really saddens me when people don’t see the value they get from having their own GP. They're there, working hard Monday to Friday, often extended hours, often Saturday mornings. They are the specialists in preventive health. They are the specialists in primary care. They know more about vaccinations than can be gleaned from an internet chat site or blog. They should be everyone’s first port of call for most health problems.

My advice to anyone – anti-vaxxer, blogger, or politician – who wants to enter the all-important Australian health policy debate is to come fully armed with evidence and facts.

Published: 14 Mar 2018