Glenda Chambers can still remember, at age 18, hearing the unmistakable sound of a baby’s cough whooping over the loudspeaker in the nurses station and rushing to the nursery.There she would pick up the distressed baby, whose coughs were picked up on a monitor, turn him or her upside down and apply an oxygen mask close to their face. It was the only way to relieve the tiny baby until the coughing subsided.
My mother was younger than I am when, in the late 70s, she faced the distressing scenes of terribly ill children at Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital in Melbourne. Children like a five year-old polio sufferer, whose head appeared enlarged in comparison to her tiny, wasted body that she had no control of.
That’s why my mum, like other practicing nurses, is thankful that medical experts have developed vaccines for illnesses that used to claim the lives and livelihoods of so many. Diseases like polio, mumps, rubella and whooping cough.
Mum is also thankful that so many parents in her generation and that of her mothers’ chose to immunise their children.
“The reason why these days there aren’t all these childhood diseases is we went through a period where whole communities came together and immunised their children, so eventually the prevalence of these diseases dropped. Children just didn’t get them,” she says.
“Now, one or two generations later, parents think ‘well we don’t have to immunise our kids anymore because theres no rubella, and measles and mumps.”
“Well the reason why there’s none around is because the generations before did immunise their kids.”
The theatre nurse, who now works at a private hospital in regional Victoria, has told me countless times that she cannot understand why some parents don’t vaccinate their children. She wants to remind parents that the diseases may be less prevalent, but they have not been eradicated.
She fears the efforts of her generation to prevent children from falling victim to distressing, debilitating and sometimes deadly illness will be undone as immunisation rates fall.
“Immunisation is not only about the individual, it is about the health of our whole community,” she says.
“These diseases are preventable and the immunisation process is quick and free.
“A few tears at the time and maybe a baby who is a bit off-colour for a few hours is nothing compared to the distress of a child suffering high fever and covered with a rubella rash, or a baby suffering whooping cough.”
I’m not a parent and I don’t claim to know anything about a supposed link to autism and vaccinations. However, the anger and distress in my mum’s voice when she tells me about the possible consequences for unvaccinated children is enough for me to make up my mind. I’m so grateful that she chose to listen to Australia’s medical community and give me all available vaccinations and I intend to do the same for my children one day.