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How vaccination refusal is harming our children

How vaccination refusal is harming our children

By Anna Trevelyan

After Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent study in 1998, about the supposed link between autism and the MMR vaccine, study after study has proven that there is absolutely no link between MMR and autism. Following the controversy (and the subsequent retraction of the ‘study’, alongside the removal of Wakefield’s license to practice medicine) most parents began to trust the research and start vaccinating their children again. The programme of vaccinations in the USA was so successful that it almost completely eradicated whooping cough – until now.

There is a concerning rise in the numbers of parents who are now refusing to vaccinate their children (and this is part of the 95%+ people who are medically fit to have the vaccine). According to an NHS survey last year, 92% of children received the MMR vaccination, down from over 93% in previous years. The target rate to prevent diseases spreading in a community is 95%, which accounts for the dramatic increase in measles and whooping cough outbreaks in both the UK and the USA. Indeed, vaccination refusal has been attributed to several high profile outbreaks (such as last year’s Disneyland outbreak) and a recent survey funded by the NIH found a direct correlation between the rise of measles and whooping cough (two preventable diseases) caused by those who refused to vaccinate their children.

There is a tendency for some to think that the vaccination poses a higher risk to the child than the illness does. For over 95% of the general public, who are medically fit to have the vaccine, this isn’t the case. The vaccines are thoroughly tested and, according to the NHS, most people surveyed have little or very mild side effects after having the MMR vaccine. On the other hand, preventable diseases such as measles can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia and inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). A survey conducted by the World Health Organization reported that 'In 2008, there were 164,000 measles deaths globally – nearly 450 deaths every day or 18 deaths every hour.' This brings me onto my next point.

Some people are unable to have vaccinations, due to a compromised immune system or other condition, which means that they are more at risk of catching the disease. By parents refusing to vaccinate their ‘healthy’ children, they are putting others at risk who cannot be vaccinated - not just here in the UK, but anywhere where the unvaccinated person may travel to in the future. We are lucky in the UK: key vaccinations for children are free, freely available and regularly tested. Some communities do not have access to the vaccinations to be able to have a choice.

By not vaccinating the children who are recommended and medically fit to have the vaccine, it means the so-called ‘heard immunity’ is compromised, which protects those who cannot be vaccinated for age or health reasons. This allows preventable diseases to enter a community, putting both children and adults at risk. No vaccine is 100% effective, but by offering it to a large number of people it will reduce the likelihood of the disease getting a foothold in the community, and can even eradicate the disease in an area.

It’s difficult to see the reason in parents’ arguments against vaccinating their children when faced with such compelling evidence. It’s an alarming trend, where the so-called ‘worried well’ are putting others at risk – not least their own children. After my partner’s parents refused to vaccinate him as a child he spent many miserable weeks battling preventable diseases which came his way. His mumps could have made him infertile and measles could have led to pneumonia. But he was one of the lucky ones, who is thankfully still here to tell the tale of why he wished he had been vaccinated.

What do you think? Why are some parents still unhappy about vaccinating their children? Should parents have the choice, or are they making the wrong choices for their children who don’t have a say? Join the discussion on Facebook and don’t forget to share your views in our latest online paid survey at Opinion Outpost - where it pays to have your say.

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