Anti-vaxxers hit new low with 'dark skin' warning
ANTI-vaxxers have been condemned for "new levels of stupidity" after telling a meeting in far north Queensland that "darker-skinned people" are most at risk from vaccine reactions.
The Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network (AVN) visited Kuranda, in the state's far north, this month as part of a tour of Queensland for screenings of the controversial film Vaxxed, which blames immunisation for autism.
Kuranda has a significant indigenous population and video footage of the evening, available online, shows two Aboriginal women delivering a Welcome to Country before the screening.
AVN president Tasha David later told the audience she was of Samoan descent, and then warned: "Once you see this movie, you'll see it is the darker skin people who have the most adverse reactions to these vaccines.
"It is our people who are getting hit. It's up to us to get out there and educate our people. They need us to lead the way. All we're hearing is what the white man is saying and it's not right. They are not looking after our people at all."
Data shows Queensland immunisation coverage for one to five-year-olds increased last financial year compared to 2015-16, including for Aboriginal children. Indigenous five-year-olds have better immunisation rates than the general population with 96.2 per cent, compared to 94.5 per cent.
Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick described Ms David's comments as "reprehensible", adding there was "absolutely no evidence" to support her claims.
"The way the anti-vaccination lobby preys on people's fear of illness is shameful," Mr Dick said. "My advice to people … is to pay the same attention to them as they would to someone who says they know for a fact that the earth is flat and pigs can fly."
Mr Dick said vaccination was strongly supported by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and indigenous health services.
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland can be proud that by age five, indigenous children have a higher rate of immunisation than non-indigenous five year olds," he said.
Federal Australian Medical Association president Michael Gannon also criticised Ms David's claims, saying they reached "new levels of stupidity".
"Immunisation is one of the success stories when it comes to delivering health to indigenous people and we would take a very dim view of anyone who attempts to diminish that and to try and turn this into a race issue is breathtaking and utterly deplorable," Dr Gannon said.
"We're talking about a part of our society that is already disadvantaged and this is one element of health care we can be very proud of and I take a very dim view of anyone who does anything which potentially compromises the already significant gap in the healthcare outcomes enjoyed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians compared to the rest of the population."
A Queensland Health spokesman said many anti-vaccination claims were based on poorly conducted studies that had been discredited or disproved, such as allegations that immunisation caused sudden infant death syndrome or autism.
"These claims are entirely baseless, irresponsible and dangerous, particularly when they are made to at-risk groups such as indigenous communities," he said. "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are at an increased risk of contracting serious and life-threatening vaccine preventable diseases."
Former AVN president Meryl Dorey, who attended the Kuranda meeting with Ms David, said they had been invited to Kuranda by a local group involved with four Aboriginal communities in the region.
"We didn't target them, they asked us to come there," Ms Dorey said.