I recently sent a letter to Medicare Australia asking a simple question about the effectiveness of child immunisation, which I assumed would get an informative answer thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. However, I got a formal reply which basically told me I don’t need to know what asked, as other information was available online (with kind pointers to said other information). However, this other information is not relevant to what I wanted to know, namely:
- how many children in Australia are immunised and how many are not
- how many of both groups do get sick
So, this is my reply which I just emailed:
I am writing in response to your letter which I received today, refusing to supply the data I had requested re immunisation and other statistics for Australia.
I appreciate the effort you have made in pointing me to available resources, but they do not help me in finding what I want to know, namely: how effective immunisation is in actually preventing sickness.
- Immunisation statistics as such say nothing: knowing how many people in Australia are immunised means nothing if I don’t know how many of them later got sick, and I cannot compare it to the same figure for people who are not immunised.
- Immunisation studies are wonderful, anti-immunisation publications are also fascinating, but both of these are useless as they are not comprehensive; they are all “anecdotal” if they do not cover the whole population and for all cases. Being a researcher myself (although in a different field), I know what “selective reporting bias” means: if a method is successful in 40% of cases, I can conduct a set of 10 experiments and publish 4 (truthful!) studies saying how it is ALWAYS successful, and a further 6 truthful studies saying how it is NEVER successful. I believe this to be the case of immunisation and anti-immunisation publications (the latter of which do not get much official publicity).
The only useful information to settle the issue of immunisation effectiveness is the information you hold and which is NOT published: i.e., the correlation between children immunised in Australia and children with health problems in Australia: how many of one group have problems, and how many of the other group have problems.
In conclusion, I believe your letter was not informative in the sense I was seeking information and I need to repeat my request:
Can I please have the statistics of:
- children immunised / not immunised in Australia;
- members of both groups having health problems, defined as “average visits to the doctor per year which ended with a prescribed treatment that Medicare had to pay”. Additionally, it may be interesting to see the average dollar cost to Medicare of both groups per year.