The two interventions that have most decreased child mortality in the last 100 years have been clean sanitation and vaccination programmes. Clean sanitation is an expected standard of living in any developed nation however vaccination of children is optional. This freedom of choice jeopardises the individual’s health and all other children’s health due to decreased herd immunity. Herd immunity is the concept that if the herd (the general population) has a high enough proportion of vaccinated individuals the spread of contagious diseases is halted as infectious chains are broken by immunised individuals. If there is a greater level of herd immunity a susceptible individual is less likely to come into contact with an infected individual. Diseases we vaccinate against are very real and do lead to death and permanent disability. All drugs have side effects and vaccines are no exception. However these side effects are very rare and when they do occur, tend to be mild. They are much safer than routinely taken over the counter drugs such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Not vaccinating your child is morally wrong
Much press coverage has given a pedestal to anti-vaxers; this is a grave mistake and a balance that is undeserved. The most important reason for not giving these groups coverage is that there is no evidence whatsoever of negative associations with vaccinations. The most notable case is Andrew Wakefield’s study in 1998 that linked the MMR jab to Autism. The paper was poorly conducted and fundamentally flawed, it has subsequently been totally discredited. Wakefield has since been deservedly struck off the medical register. He will have to bear on his conscience his significant role in the death of the many thousands of infants that have died partly due to his ignorance and poor research.
Freedom of choice is fundamental in society and you should be allowed to make unwise decisions but not vaccinating your child is morally wrong. Mis-education and smear campaigns have increased uncertainty in parents, but this has not been built on any evidence. Parents are usually unaware of the dangerous diseases we vaccinate against, as the vaccination programmes have almost all but eradicated them. A worrying resurgence of these diseases has become apparent in recent times due to decreased vaccination rates. The government needs to set down a hard line approach to the issue which would undoubtedly save lives.
An adult has the capacity to consent to a procedure and so can choose to make an educated but unwise decision. Giving parents the free will to deny their child a simple life saving intervention due to either their lack of understanding or personal preference is wrong. Compare it to another controversial medical situation – a Jehovah’s Witness child that is bleeding to death. The child is under the age of consent and therefore the parents have capacity to consent. Orthodox Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it is morally wrong to accept blood transfusions. Some orthodox Jehovah witnesses feel so strongly about this they would let their child bleed to death; I know this from personal experience. This is clearly not in the best interest of the child and so consent is vetoed to the doctors to save the child’s life.
Much press coverage has given a pedestal to anti-vaxers; this is a grave mistake
The same concept should apply to vaccinations if a parent is unable to act in the best interests of their child. Another common argument is that it is not God’s will or unnatural. It is in fact very natural as most vaccines trigger a very minor immune reaction using trace amounts of the virus, this can be either live or attenuated. Vaccinations are a cost effective and life saving intervention, arguably one of the greatest advances in modern medicine. To do anything but vaccinate your children is immoral.