Introduction by Croakey: Warm congratulations to Professor Julie Leask from the University of Sydney for being named as overall winner of the Australian Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence for 2019.
In accepting the award, Leask highlighted the importance of social science in public health, and said that disease outbreaks are often about much more than ‘anti-vaxxers’, including poor primary healthcare and conflict.
She also paid tribute to others contributing in the field, including “the untold story” of the success of the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers in achieving very high rates of immunisation.
Meanwhile, don’t miss this recent article by Leask and Maryke Steffens, a PhD Candidate at Macquarie University, titled ‘Four ways to talk with vaccine skeptics’ – it exemplifies Leask’s talent for communicating about communications.
Julie Leask writes:
I want to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and thank Auntie Anne for her welcome to country.
I thank the Australian Financial Review, Qantas, Korn Ferry and all the sponsors. And the judges – you had a tough job.
I feel keenly a sense of privilege and responsibility with this award.
To me this award recognises public health: public health, in the words of Pat Barker the novelist, doesn’t have much dash about it. You can’t cut the ribbon on a public health intervention but tobacco control, road safety, malaria prevention and vaccination are saving lives, ten thousand at time.
Vaccines prevent about 2.5 million deaths each year. But some people aren’t having them. The US, Ukraine, Yemen, Venezuela and the Philippines all had large measles outbreaks in 2019 because not enough people were vaccinated.
We need to find out why and map solutions well. It’s not just the ‘anti-vaxer’ phenomenon. There’s also breakdown in primary health care, conflict, displacement, neglect of immunisation programs. And yes, some fear vaccines.
In vaccination, the more you control the diseases, the less people see them. If they stop vaccinating for this reason, the diseases come back.
This is a complex, even wicked problem.
My field, social science in immunisation, tries to understand why people don’t vaccinate and what to do about it. We also look at how to have more constructive conversations with the hesitant.
Vaccination is an emotional topic – it touches on issues of protection and social responsibility. When people question it, many want to shout louder, or to fight dirtier.
But in vaccination, we must conduct ourselves in a way that is worthy of the goals we seek to achieve: the health and wellbeing of children, adults and societies.
I work with groups of talented and committed people: who are building the tools to help countries find out why their immunisation rates are low; who are finding out why only 25 percent of Australian children are having the flu vaccine; or 50 percent of older adults have their pneumonia vaccine.
And we are understanding success too: how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander five-year-olds are now 97 percent immunised nationally and the untold story of the contribution of the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers to that.
Mostly women have discovered these things: and they have done this while they have raised children, or led their First Nations communities, were responsible for EDs or health programs.
I want to acknowledge them and the Collaboration on Social Science in Immunisation. And all the quiet achievers who making vaccine programs – many of whom share my background – nursing – who drive the extra mile, send the extra reminder or stay the extra hour to get people vaccinated.
I want to acknowledge people important to me here tonight. My mother, who as a young mum didn’t vaccinate then changed her mind, going against how she was raised. She did what she believed was right, even though it was hard. She taught me determination, curiosity, and empathy.
She is here with my stepmother. They have been friends since 1975, showing how it’s possible to cross traditional boundaries within families. Rose, is a woman of true grit.
Also here tonight Kristine Macartney, director of the NCIRS. I want to particularly acknowledge my team at the University of Sydney: Kerrie Wiley, Pen Robinson, David Levy, Lyndal Trevena also Nina Berry, Margie Danchin, my PhD and masters students, and many others – it’s hard not to be able to mention them all by name. Also my colleagues in the Sydney Nursing School and my mentors Lesley Barclay, Peter McIntyre, Sally Redman, and Amy Creighton.
Finally I want to acknowledge my husband Sandy Leask – on this journey with me for the past 29 years. Your support and love – words fail. We have been in partnership raising our two wonderful children (our son is at home cooking dinner for his sister).
What an incredible group of women here tonight. You:
- help farmers effect climate action
- lead our space agency in Australia
- work in media diversity
- lead in Sport
- work in film making
- work in distance education
- have been advocates for Refugees
- have worked in cerebral palsy research
- have been advocates for the Rights of LGBTQI people
All of us are winners tonight because we effect change, we stare down our struggles and our imperfections, yet act as a role models for all genders and show what it possible.
Thank you for all that you do, and for this award.
• This speech was first published at Julie Leask’s blog, Human Factors, and is cross-published here with permission.