Have we been too accommodating? Too accepting of beliefs rooted in fear and refuted by science?
Yes, we have. What can we do? Let's continue offering carrots and bust out the sticks.
About 1000 cases of measles have been confirmed in New Zealand, with more than 800 in the Auckland region.
Compare that to about 1200 cases (and rising) this year in the United States. The population of the States sits at around 329 million. New Zealand has nearly five million people. We're facing our worst measles outbreak in more than 20 years.
What have we gotten so wrong in Aotearoa when it comes to vaccination compliance?
Here's what experts tell us about the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella vaccine): it's safe, effective and for measles you need 90 - 95 per cent immunisation coverage for herd immunity, to ensure people who can't be vaccinated, like young babies, those with compromised immune systems or for other medical reasons are protected.
An NZME report showed 57 per cent to 77 per cent of infants in the Bay of Plenty had been vaccinated by March this year. Babies from the poorest families had a vaccination rate of 63 per cent, while those from the wealthiest families had rates of 57 per cent (the average for least-deprived infants nationwide is 82 per cent). Perhaps parents in the Bay are too posh to push science and community health interests on to their progeny.
Starship Children's Hospital boss Dr Mike Shepard says it's a matter of time before someone dies in New Zealand from measles complications. Already, 17 people have been treated at Tauranga hospital this year for the disease, including some who needed treatment in the intensive care unit. Measles is more contagious than Ebola and experts say one in 300 children could die or get a life-threatening illness due to complications from measles.
I'd like to think people who are vaccine skeptics or outright anti-vax aren't so selfish they'd risk the life of an unvaccinated baby or immuno-compromised child because they refused to vaccinate their own child. How would you forgive yourself if someone else's kid died because of your strongly-held, misguided beliefs?
'Horrifically infectious': 17 people hospitalised with measles since January
Measles fallout: School may ban unvaccinated students from Aims Games
We can no longer leave public health as a matter of conscience, because we're losing the battle. A small but significant percentage of people worldwide have swallowed the digital deception vaccines are dangerous.
Imagine if the internet were around during the polio and smallpox epidemics. The disinformation campaign would ensure these diseases, which killed or debilitated hundreds of millions of people worldwide would still be around. Measles is estimated to have killed about 200 million people globally between 1855 and 2005.
Countries like New Zealand are at risk of losing their measles eradication status within months, partly due to anti-vaxxers and partly due to what researchers call access issues - such as lack of transport; both parents working and being unable to meet practice opening hours, or transience.
Healthcare providers across the country are working to improve access to immunisations; they're getting more vaccine supplies and increasing staff to provide the jabs.
You have the right to refuse vaccinations for yourself or your children. You can also choose not to wear a seatbelt, drive drunk, and smoke. So far, the only action in the above choices without direct financial consequences is failure to vaccinate.
Inactions that threaten public health and add avoidable costs to the health care system deserve consequences. It's sad mums of babies too young for vaccination are quarantining healthy children during next week's AIMS games, because 800 of its 11,500 participants are unvaccinated. Instead, each AIMS player should be required to produce proof of vaccination or sit out the games. It's not punishment, but protection for the unvaccinated and other vulnerable people.
Toi Te Ora Public Health says no children with obvious measles symptoms should be included in AIMS Games - such as those with a runny nose or fever. But it said unvaccinated children were still allowed to attend, and schools should request proof of at least one MMR vaccine for students and adults under 50 in case someone presented symptoms.
Public schools should require students be immunised. Unless a bona fide MD certifies a potential student cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, public school would be off-limits.
What about sporting events, airplanes and other spaces people congregate and cough on each other? Businesses might choose to adopt the same vax-or-stay-home stance. Inaction has consequences.
Dr Lance O'Sullivan has renewed a call for benefit cuts and higher taxes for parents who don't vaccinate their children. He told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking he agreed with the "no jab no pay" concept Australia adopted in 2015, where benefits would be cut if parents didn't vaccinate. He also wanted to see a higher tax rate for non-compliance, so people on both ends of the income spectrum would get the (metaphorical) stick. Inaction has consequences, which can bring results: it was reported this week Australia's warning led to 174,000 children being vaccinated.
Outliers will always live among us - people who point to the car crash where someone's seat belt trapped, instead of saved them, or motorcycle riders who whinge wearing a helmet doesn't feel good. Smashing your head open, I imagine, also doesn't feel good. Most of us agree to constraints in the name of personal safety and public well-being.
BUT I DON'T KNOW EXACTLY WHAT'S IN THAT SHOT! /anti-vaxxers shriek in ALL CAPS. Yeah, me neither. I trust my doctor, her staff and the medical establishment aren't trying to poison me with an untested potion. I don't have a scientific research lab. Chances are, neither do anti-vaxxers.
Unless you grow all your own food and make your own medicine, good luck. We take a leap of faith each time we shop at the grocery store, visit the pharmacy and dine out. Yes, people have gotten sick as a result of ingesting substances from all those places, but odds are, you'll be fine after eating supermarket or cafe food or taking pharmacy medicines.
Because levels of vaccination among the population have dropped enough to pose a public health risk, because measles cases worldwide have skyrocketed 300 per cent the past 12 months, it's time to take a new approach. Inaction should have consequences. Threaten public health and your available public services shrink. Benefits are cut, you'll pay more tax and pay for private schools.
Your choice. It's for your own health. And ours.