In February this year, the McCafferys welcomed a daughter to their family. Shortly afterwards, she contracted whooping cough and died in agony. Whooping cough used to be very rare when nearly everybody followed the recommended vaccination schedule.
Five months on, what haunts the McCafferys is that they didn’t know they were living in a region with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
Since their daughter’s death they have discovered up to one in three children in their NSW north coast community are not vaccinated – three times less than the national average.
“I would never have ever considered asking someone if they’d vaccinated their child, it’s completely their business and I guess we’ve learnt the hard way that actually that choice does affect everybody around you,” Mr McCaffery said.
Dr Ingall treated Dana McCaffery in hospital and sees a clear link between the region’s low vaccination rate and her death.
“I mean, we’ve educated and educated … and educated, and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. And part of me, in my mind was, well, Dana was an accident waiting to happen,” he said.
Their region is home to some fierce anti-vaccination advocates, who are still repeating falsehoods about vaccines causing autism (the original study was not only never replicated but has recently been revealed as having used corrupted data [more on Andrew Wakefield’s discredited study]). These falsehoods sit alongside their accurate information about some of the rare complications of vaccine administration – complications that occur at a much lower rate than the deaths and disabling outcomes from diseases once thought to be virtually eradicated until people stopped vaccinating their children due to scare campaigns.
For the McCafferys, they are left wondering why not one health professional warned them of the whooping cough epidemic.
As they await the outcome of a NSW Health Department investigation into their daughter’s death, they hope lessons learnt will save others.
“People need a personal story to be able to associate with and they’ve got a personal story. They’ve got ours. And we’re just asking the Government to use it,” Tony McCaffery said.
So, if you know someone who is considering not vaccinating their children, please tell them the McCafferys’ story. There was a brief time when my children were young that I was nervous about vaccination, and even delayed the schedule for a while due to my concerns, so I understand how the fears arise and how the stories of bad vaccination outcomes stoke those fears. When my son showed signs of autism I read and read everything I could find, wondering whether one of those injections had caused his cognitive variations. But the more I read, the more I realised that there was no foundation for the claims of an autism-vaccine connection, even before the revelations that Wakefield’s data was corrupted. My son’s autism is due to a familial history – his genetic inheritance – that is now my firm conviction.
As for the other possible complications of vaccination, they are potentially very horrible, but having a child die of whooping cough or measles is so very much more likely in an unvaccinated community. Risk management of health is tricky when you don’t have medical training yourself, but there’s a reason that vaccines for polio, measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough were welcomed by nearly everybody when they first appeared – because nearly everybody had seen horrible, tragic deaths due to those diseases. If I had infant children now I would so definitely be ensuring that they had their vaccines on schedule.