Should we make childhood vaccinations compulsory?
The final week of the school holidays sees many parents frantically ticking off items on their checklists in preparation for the start of term. School uniform: check, school shoes: check, new stationary: check, up to date vaccinations: hmmm that’s a slightly trickier one to tick off the list. With a recent report of measles being at an all-time high, I wanted to look at childhood vaccinations through the eyes of those who vaccinate their children and those who don’t, and in turn, whether childhood vaccinations be made mandatory in the UK.
As a mum to two boys, I personally believe that vaccinations are essential. I would never forgive myself if my child contracted an illness that I personally could have prevented. For me, side effects were never a factor in my decision process and rightly or wrongly I have vaccinated my children as advised by my health professionals. Obviously, everyone has the right to make this important decision for their own children.
With that in mind, let’s start with the report that there has been almost twice the number of measles cases in England and Wales in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year. The figure from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has seen cases rise from 497 to 964. This is a staggering number and the HPA are urging parents to take action. Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation said, “Although uptake of the MMR has improved in recent years some children who do not get vaccinated on time and some older children, who missed out when uptake was lower, have not had a chance to catch-up. Therefore, there are still enough people who are not protected to allow some outbreaks to occur among unvaccinated individuals.
“It’s vital that children receive both doses of the MMR vaccination and ahead of returning to school after the holidays, we are urging parents to ensure their children have received the two doses.”
Measles can be very serious and parents need to be aware of the risks associated with such infection. So with this in mind why aren’t we all vaccinating our children? Is it due to a fear of the potential side effects, scare mongering from both sides or a lack of information for parents about the vaccines?
When I first started considering this issue, I thought it would be hard to find parents who didn’t vaccinate. However, there are parents out there who have done their research and are happy in their own minds that vaccination is not the route for their children. It truly is an emotive subject amongst parents, who each feel they have made the right decision for their child.
Are some people not vaccinating because of the major scare of the supposed link between autism and the MMR vaccine? Few other public health issues have caused as much of a heated debate as this one, and I do not intend to go down this route of enquiry, that alone is a separate issue. But is one of the main reasons parents aren’t vaccinating down to a genuine concern around possible side effects?
One parent I spoke to, Kate Marshall told me: “I have immunised all three of my children. I think the pros outweigh the cons. My daughter also had the jab for teenage girls to help against cervical cancer. Luckily, they have had no major illnesses and only chickenpox, so I think I made the right decision.”
Another parent, who writes a blog called Tiaras and Prozac said: “We have delayed the MMR jab because we are just not comfortable with the timing / age and we can’t afford singles. We get their first MMR at around three-to-four years and the booster around six weeks later.”
Also, there is point of view that there is a moral obligation to immunise your children for the health benefits of others.
A recent article published in the British Medical Journal debated the point of whether childhood immunisations should be made compulsory by law. Are parents who decide not to vaccinate also making the choice for the children they come into contact with? Dr Paul A Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, put forward a case for childhood vaccinations to be made mandatory. He said: “In our world, science-based information is often obscured by false and misleading claims readily available in newspapers and magazines. Parents hear that the MMR vaccine causes autisum; that pertussis vaccine causes brain damage; and that the HPV vaccine causes blood clots, strokes, heart attacks. As a consequence some parents make bad decisions based on bad information.”
Dr Offitt concludes his article by saying: “Someday we may live in a world where we don’t scare parents into making bad health decisions. Until then, vaccine mandates are the best way to ensure protection from illnesses that have caused so much needless suffering and death.”
Taking the opposing side is Professor David M Salisbury, director of immunisation for the Department of Health, argues: “Attempts to impose compulsion today would undoubtedly be challenged in terms of autonomy, inappropriate intrusion of the state, availability to choice and parental rights and responsibilities. “
He concludes his argument by saying: “When coverage is already high and rising, target diseases are under excellent control (although measles could be better), and parental acceptation for immunisations is high, compulsion seems a heavy hammer. Compulsion would be unenforceable, unnecessary, and its use would probably do more harm than good.”
The question in my mind is, if childhood vaccinations were to be mandatory where do you then draw the line? If a precedent is set to enforce a child into having a vaccine, what other medical procedures would be made mandatory? For me, parents need to be educated and well informed and not scared into making a choice either way. After all, it is a choice but it needs to be one based upon scientific fact.Tagged in: childcare, children's health, health, immunisations, vaccinations
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