ADEM Media vaccine victim stories DPT vaccines
WA mum's fundraiser to avert homelessness highlights vaccine scheme concern
JANUARY 7 2016
A Kalgoorlie mother says she has had to resort to online fundraising to keep her family off the streets, after her husband was incapacitated by a disease they believe was caused by a reaction to a vaccination.
Meanwhile, the Australian government has not yet committed to a compensation scheme for adverse vaccine reactions, despite the increasing adoption of such schemes worldwide.
Ben Hammond, then a full-time mine site supervisor, received a whooping cough vaccination in 2012, told he needed one to see his baby son James, born eight weeks premature.
Ben was paralysed before his new baby son, James, was a fortnight old.
He began to feel ill two days later, his wife Tanya said, and twelve days after the vaccination his mother-in-law found him paralysed on the kitchen floor and called an ambulance.
He was diagnosed with Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis, a central nervous system disease often following viral or bacterial infections or, more rarely, vaccinations, though the Australian Medical Association WA has previously called it impossible to prove or disprove such a link.
Very ill and unable to move from the chest down, Mr Hammond spent 10 months in hospital, including a lengthy stay at Shenton Park Rehabilitation Unit, receiving intensive treatment.
He was eventually taught to walk again and can travel a few metres at a time unassisted despite never regaining feeling below the chest.
His bladder and bowels are not functional and his liver and kidney have minimal function. He can no longer sweat and so cannot regulate his body temperature, and his immune system is virtually nonexistent. These factors have rendered him housebound.
Tanya, previously a restaurant manager, is now a full-time carer for her husband of 10 years, James and her four older children.
The family lives off a pension bringing in $1100 per fortnight, $350 of which goes on medical supplies.
Mrs Hammond has sold her husband's car, motorbike and camping gear in an effort to pay the bills but is no longer able to meet her mortgage payments and is facing having their house repossessed.
"He was a proud Aussie man, very active. We went camping with the kids every weekend. He has been a good husband and a great dad and now he cannot even buy bread and milk for us," she said.
"I am just a carer, no longer a wife."
She knows the online fundraiser she set up on the advice of a friend is at best a stopgap.
"I have power bills, gas bills, water rates piling up – it's just overwhelming," she said.
"As a parent, your priority is always to feed and look after your children. But now I have to give Ben his medical supplies or he will die. As a mum I have to cope with that choice between caring for my husband and my kids.
"I don't want people to think I am money-hungry. I am desperate. I don't know what avenues to take."
As a homeowner Mrs Hammond cannot join the public housing waitlist and has nowhere to go if she becomes homeless.
She has been told he husband will be back in a wheelchair within 18 months if she does not move to Perth to access better services for him.
"He is declining rapidly," Mrs Hammond said.
"They can't help him medically but they may be able to improve his quality of life."
Mr Hammond signed a standard waiver before the vaccination and efforts to gain compensation have been unsuccessful.
Mrs Hammond's mother has gathered nearly 800 signatures on a petition for Australia to implement a compensation scheme for people who have had severe adverse vaccination reactions but so far it has been unsuccessful.
A 2010 World Health Organisation bulletin estimated that 19 countries worldwide, including New Zealand, Germany, Japan, United States of America and Canada, had set up vaccine-injury compensation schemes recognising that individuals could bear huge costs after adverse events.
The scheme acknowledges that there is usually no clearly attributable fault, making it difficult to sue for damages and that it "is fair and reasonable that a community that is protected by a vaccination programme accepts responsibility for and provides compensation to those who are injured by it."
Fairfax Media has previously reported that the chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore, backed the call for such a scheme.
Telethon Kids Institute director and children's infectious diseases expert Jonathan Carapetis said although he could not comment on Mr Hammond's situation, he also supported the implementation of a scheme.
He said most serious disease incidences that people believed were linked to vaccinations were in fact tragic coincidences and serious adverse vaccine reactions were extremely rare - though they could occur.
An example, he said, was the measles vaccine causing encephalitis, resulting in brain damage, which affected about one child every four years.
"Vaccines save thousands of lives every year in Australia and are incredibly safe but like any medication they are not without any risk at all," he said.
"The danger of not having a vaccine is far greater than the risks of having one. But should those incredibly rare events occur, it is important for people to have faith in compensation being provided.
"In the very, very rare cases in which there is a very clear damage done then I would absolutely support a no-fault compensation scheme."
He said the number of countries implementing such schemes was increasing and those that had begun them had continued them.
A spokeswoman for the federal Health Department said the Department of Treasury had a discussion paper publicly available on its website with respect to compensation for medical injury within a National Injury Insurance Scheme.
"In August 2011, the Productivity Commission recommended the establishment of two schemes: the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the NIIS. The NIIS includes people who suffer catastrophic injuries following medical treatment," she said.
"The government is currently working with the states and territories to develop the NIIS, which will complement the NDIS."