In an ideal world, Riley Hughes would have been turning four next month and starting kindergarten.
His parents Catherine and Greg would have been sending him off with his hair carefully brushed, his play-lunch in a cool pack to protect it from the heat, and sunscreen on his face to stop sunburn.
And just as sensibly, they would have ensured he was up to date with his childhood vaccinations to prevent him and other children around him from getting potentially deadly infections.
But when the new school year starts, the couple will have only memories of the child they had for 32 days — a son born in February 2015 and gone by mid-March, dying from whooping cough.
They never got the chance to make a choice about vaccinating Riley. He was too young to start any of the scheduled immunisation and was relying on the goodwill and good sense of the wider community around him.
They did not get the chance to make any choice about him — where he would go to school, how much time they would let him watch television after school, or whether he would have to eat all the vegetables on his dinner plate.
So when the couple saw a recent ABC television report about a group of parents feeling aggrieved about their lack of choice — because of new no-jab, no-play rules — it was salt to the wound.
The upset families claimed their kids were being marginalised because they were not vaccinated, thereby denied the chance for the early learning in childcare and kindy enjoyed by other children.
Some childhood educators also warned that the policy could have serious unintended consequences for disadvantaged children.
“I don’t think it is fair, to be honest,” one mother told the 7.30 program. “It makes me feel like we are a bit excluded from society.”
But in subsequent social media commentary, many frustrated people argued the woman had unintentionally hit the nail on the head — it was about exclusion, and protecting children whose parents dutifully had them vaccinated and expected everyone else to do the same.
“Antivaxer says ‘I’ve been excluded from pre-school’. No, you’ve excluded yourself,” was one response.
And this: “Let’s talk about choice! You can’t have access to early childhood learning if you are dead from a preventable infectious disease.”
Catherine Hughes responded on social media too, through the Light for Riley page, saying she had to bite her tongue when people said the policy denied their children an early childhood education.
“It’s a line that often gets rattled out … but here’s the thing, we DO know how that feels, because you know who won’t be able to attend kindy? Riley.
“We wish we were able to buy him those tiny school uniforms.
“We would love to be shamelessly sharing #firstdayofschool photos all across our social media.
“But we don’t get to. He doesn’t get the wonderful experience of kindy because he died from whooping cough before he was old enough to be vaccinated.
“There’s no choice for Riley and other children like him.
“Children in childcare deserve to be protected from serious, deadly and preventable disease.”
Those measured comments prompted a rush of vicious anti-vaccination sentiment, only marginally better than some in the past which have suggested Riley’s death from whooping cough was fabricated. But Catherine Hughes remains far more dignified than her critics, never dragging herself down to their level of abuse and name-calling.
She spends her time more usefully trying to prevent other families facing the heartbreak hers has faced.
It is imperative we actively support the efforts of people like her, and legislative changes such the State Government’s no-jab, no-play measures which started this month but will need the backing of MPs to fully roll out.
When it comes to anti-vaccination lobbyists who lie and threaten people, it is time for a no-jab, no-say policy.
The majority of people — who rightly vaccinate their children — are often drowned out by a small minority who do not want to follow the rules that keep our society safe.
Their version of “science” is a mishmash of facts intentionally distorted to still sound credible.
Vaccination is safe and the right thing to do.
It is about taking responsibility and making a choice that is good for your own family as well as the wider community.
Parents can elect not to have their children vaccinated, that is their choice, but they should not be allowed to dictate the policies at places like childcare centres and kindy that are there to protect all.
Some argue we should not worry about people who actively choose not to vaccinate because they are a very small group, and the bigger issue is with parents who are not anti-vaccination but just lax about making sure their kids have their jabs.
But the distortion of information by the anti-vaccination lobby can permeate into this bigger group of vaccination-neutral parents, reinforcing the idea that is it OK for their kids to miss their jabs.
We have done a damn good job of eradicating dangerous bacterial and viral infection, but not enough.
If anyone thinks vaccine-preventable diseases are a thing of the past, they should note the recent resurgence of measles.
In 2014 the WHO said that Australia had virtually eradicated measles but we still regularly have cases.
Just this week, health authorities issued a measles alert for WA, including Perth Zoo and the Ikea store, after a confirmed case.
Unlike most cases of measles in WA which are imported from other countries where the disease still survives, the patient had not recently travelled overseas and is thought to have been infected in the South West.
On the other side of the world, a measles outbreak in New York state has been called the largest in recent history.
Globally, measles cases rose by more than 30 per cent in 2017, blamed on vaccine sceptics in wealthy countries and low immunisation rates in Africa. In that year, 190,000 infections were officially registered around the world, but the United Nations health agency estimated that the true number was 6.7 million.
There were 110,000 deaths, most of them in young children.
In Australia, we are fortunate not to see big numbers of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases anymore, but that has not happened by chance or magical homeopathic vaccines.
It is the result of years of work and at times hard decisions for the good of all.