In light of France’s recent decision to make it a legal requirement for parents to vaccinate their children I thought I would write a post about whether in the UK should childhood vaccinations be compulsory?
It is probably not surprising to know that as a junior doctor and a mum I completely agree with vaccinations for our children. I know that childhood vaccinations can sometimes be a contentious issue, with some people fearing that vaccinations can cause ill effects. The majority of this fear seems to stem from a completely flawed paper published by now struck off Doctor Andrew Wakefield and the resulting media frenzy. There has been vast amounts of research into possible links between the MMR vaccine and Autism since then and there is no good evidence to substaniate these wild claims. Despite this the is still a worrying downward trend in uptake of vaccinations, in particular with the MMR.
Personally I feel that on the whole vaccinations are very safe and they protect against potential deadly diseases, who wouldn’t want this for their children?
The question at the moment though is should childhood vaccinations be compulsory ?
Discussions and debates about whether childhood vaccinations should be compulsory have been ongoing for years.
France have just announced plans to make it illegal not to vaccinate your children from 2018. As much as I agree wholeheartedly about getting my children vaccinated and I do question people who not, I think its a bit of a slippery slope to start enforcing medical treatment on people. It’s a bit morally dubious. Where does this end? Do we start enforcing certains foods or banning certain foods for children, this may seem an extreme example but the principal is the same. That being said past enforced laws for people’s Health and safety include wearing a seatbelt and the indoor smoking ban. These were contentious before being instigated but I think most people would agree with these decisions now with hindsight. Although the principal is the same here, i.e. Removing people’s choice over whether to smoke inside in public or wear a seatbelt, it does seem more of s step up to insist on babies having injections against parents wishes.
Another side of things to consider is as parents it’s our job to advocate and make decisions for our children as they are unable to. Is it fair of parents to opt out of vaccinating their child when by doing this they leave their child open to chance of getting a serious illness? It’s one thing to make a decision to not have a vaccine or treatment for ourselves understanding and knowing what the potential consequences are to our bodies. It’s a bit of a different ball game making these decisions on behalf of another person, are they truly acting in the child’s best interests by not vaccinating? If they choose not to vaccinate is this a safeguarding issue?
There is also potential impact on the wider community particularly those who are vulnerable to these diseases who are unable to have the vaccines for example immunosuppressed people or newborn babies. Without a certain level of vaccination coverage, herd immunity will not work and the incidence of disease will increase. Do we have a duty to society, to those vulnerable to vaccinate our children?
In many states in the US they have a system of compulsory vaccinations in order to attend school, although there are some exemptions on medical and religious grounds. It’s interesting to note that these exemptions have been increasing and are as exception rate is as high as 20% in some states. Australia operate a similar system to this also.
The UK currently do not operate either of these systems to increase uptake rates of vaccinations. Preferring to employ better education to parents about vaccinations and dispel myths about them and making vaccinations more accessible. We do have good rates of uptake in comparison however there is a downward trend in the vaccinations rates.
It’s a tricky question really, and one that I am not entirely sure on but I personally feel that making it illegal not to vaccinate is likely to do more harm than good.
The other option of mandatory vaccination in order to attend nursery or school certainly sits better with me than making it a legal matter. But I think it is still likely to have issues and not necessarily increase uptake rates as people may just decide to home school their children instead rather than vaccinate them. The other issue with this approach is that people who are reluctant to vaccinate might not do so until a nursery or school age.
Surely what we need to do is redouble our efforts in educating people about why vaccination is important, not just for their children but for the whole community. Of course if vaccination rates did continue to decline in the UK and we started seeing an increase in incidence of diseases such as measles, perhaps we would need to change the thinking around entrance to nursery or school. Hopefully this won’t be necessary.
What are your opinions on this? Should childhood vaccinations be compulsory? Do you think we should follow in Frances footsteps and make vaccinations a legal requirement? Do you think it should be mandatory in order to attend school? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.