As governments’ move to make vaccinations mandatory, we are forced to ask ourselves if this is necessary for society, or just another form of government intrusion.
By Matt Woodford | Twitter @Mattwoodford12 | Image by Wikimedia Commons
Statistically, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to vaccinating your children. These injections save millions of lives across the planet and governments should do everything within their power to coerce parents into vaccinating their children. Anyone who argues otherwise is a fool, right? After all, complications are extremely rare – only one in a million children will experience any kind of complication.
But what happens when you are that one in a million?
Claire had recently given birth to her second daughter, Kimberly, weighing a healthy 7lb 7 oz. She had already gone through the vaccination process with her first child and thought nothing of taking her new baby to get the round of lifesaving jabs. She trusted the word of the doctors, after all who wouldn’t? These vaccines are given to thousands of children every day and nothing bad ever happens. She took Kimberly to the hospital, had her vaccinated and carried on with her day. It was then that events took a tragic turn.
Just hours after the injections, Kimberly took ill. After 24 hours, she was fighting for her life. The bacteria in the injection had multiplied in the bloodstream, causing her to develop meningococcal meningitis and septicaemia and she was put in intensive care for 4 months. She was 5 months old. “For a mother to see that was horrific and the whole event was surreal”, Claire said in an interview. She was told by doctors that the vaccination was the likely cause of Kimberly’s condition and as a result of this, Claire has chosen not to vaccinate the children she has had since.
Put yourself in Claire’s shoes for a second. If you had been through what she has then how would you react to governments around the world moving to make these vaccinations mandatory, punishing and penalising parents who don’t oblige?
That is exactly what is happening. Germany has become the latest country to propose fining the parents of unvaccinated children. Germany is not on their own in this, it has joined the ranks of a growing number of nations that have already implemented, or are planning to implement such measures. Argentina, France, Italy and Belgium all have mandatory vaccinations. In the US it is legislated for at a state level. At the most extreme end of the scale, Rockland County in New York state recently signed into law an order banning people under the age of 18 who have not been vaccinated from going out in public. In Australia, vaccinations are not mandatory but proof of vaccination is required to enroll at school and now Health Minister Matt Hancock is refusing to rule out bringing in similar laws here in the UK.
On the subject of movements at a government level to make vaccinations mandatory, Claire explained that she finds the attempts “outrageous” , and that she felt it was a “violation of human rights” for the government to force you to put something into your child that you don’t want to.
This is all happening now because of a series of outbreaks of measles and mumps, among other diseases across the world, and Nottingham is no exception. Earlier this year, it was reported that both Nottingham Trent University and the University Of Nottingham had experienced outbreaks of Mumps and Rubella among their students. This can be partially linked to hysteria around the MMR vaccine at the turn of the 21st century:
Back in 1998, British doctor Andrew Wakefield published an article in the medical journal The Lancet that controversially linked the MMR vaccine to increased rates in Autism; this has since been universally discredited by medical professionals in the years since. The Lancet retracted the study in 2004 and in 2010, Andrew Wakefield was found guilty of “serious professional misconduct” by the General Medical Council and had his medical license revoked, meaning he is no longer allowed to practice in the UK. But it was too late, the myths persisted and today we have a thriving community of anti-vaxers.
Chief among their arguments is the idea that the state does not own their child. It is easy to see the logic of this argument and it raises the argument of how far the state should go to protect people from themselves. They present the argument that ultimately, it is not the states job to look after their child, it’s theirs. It comes down to an issue of citizens’ rights versus state control and we are forced to ask ourselves just how far we are willing to let government interject in our everyday lives.
These arguments are not without merit, even the CDC (The Centres for Disease Control) admit that vaccines can result in severe allergic reactions and require hospitalisation, these cases are extremely rare and it is only estimated to affect one in a million children. “All vaccines carry a risk of a life-threatening allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) in about one per million children”. Specific vaccinations however can carry a greater risk. According to the CDC, “The rotavirus vaccination can cause intussusception, a type of bowel blockage that may require hospitalization in about one per 20,000 babies in the United States” and the MMR jab can result in long term seizures and permanent brain damage, though again this is extremely rare. The CDC says that the risk posed by these vaccines is by far outweighed by the benefits of children being vaccinated. Some vaccines do indeed contain harmful ingredients such as thimerosal, an organic mercury compound. These ingredients are safe in the amounts that are used in the vaccines CDC says.
Claire however, does not entirely trust the statistics and believes we need to be extremely careful when injecting children with potentially harmful ingredients.“I feel 100% transparency is needed on the ingredients, we eat something we check its first edible, good for us and what’s in it, why should we be made to put into our children’s bodies/underdeveloped bodies that we know nothing about. They are filled with chemicals, viruses and drugs and we are supposed trust the government and health organisations”.
It’s easy to understand the motivations of mothers like Claire; she is after all trying to do what she thinks is best for her children. But what do the experts think of the health risks? Doctor Mandy Robertson, a GP at Green Meadows doctors’ surgery said the following.
When asked about links that had been drawn between certain vaccinations and subsequent health risks, and weather there really is a genuine risk to health or if it is all being blown out of proportion.
Doctor Robertson described how vaccinations play a vital role in preventing diseases among the population. Despite this however, she accepted that “there are certainly some minor risks from vaccination”. The complications she listed were minor forms of the illness, injection site reactions and occasionally a skin reaction called Henoch-Schoenlein Purpura. She was quick to add however, that while some minor health risks are posed by these injections, they are “far outweighed by the public health and individual benefits of immunisation.”
When asked about the proposals to make vaccines mandatory, Doctor Robertson stated that while she is “not averse” to the idea, efforts should primarily focus on educating parents about vaccines so they can make “the right choice”. She says that this is not always effective and notes that “the antivax movement seems to be able to get information out much more effectively than the government”. She went on to say that these laws have been in effect across the U.S for many years and unless the issue is addressed, then government action is needed.
On the issue of how parents could be educated more effectively about vaccinations, Doctor Robertson said that it was important for doctors and midwifes to hammer home the importance of vaccines and take “every opportunity during pregnancy and after birth to educate parents about the importance of vaccination”. She feels that information needs to be much more accessible, this could be done through education resources such as the NHS website.
Her opinions were echoed by a medical expert who wishes to remain anonymous. The expert in question is a practice nurse and has been qualified for over 30 years and has specialised in giving primary school aged children vaccinations for the last 10. Her views mirror those of Mandy’s in some respects, she too feels that the NHS has a responsibility to educate parents about vaccines but has different views on making it mandatory. “I believe the NHS has an important role to implement the vaccination programme, to educate parents, to provide choice, opportunities to ask questions and not for the government to make it mandatory.”
Through conversations with both Claire and medical professionals, it becomes clear that this comes down to the age old question of rights versus responsibility. Should parents have the ultimate choice to decide what is right for their children, even if that choice contributes to the spread of diseases? Or is it the government’s responsibility to ensure the health of its citizens is protected? This debate is not likely to be settled any time soon and is part of a wider debate in our society about how far we as citizens are willing to let governments have authority in our lives when it is arguable it is in the national interest and for the greater good. It’s a contest of freedom versus security and there is no simple answer.