Monday, 27 February 2012

Compulsory Immunisation- where are we now?

An article in the Huffington Post today reminded me of one of my looong standing interests- immunisation and whether it shoudl be mandatory. Oh, I've had many a discussion with many a person on this issue, and I find it really hard to be at peace with my own opinion on this issue.

So, for those who don't know the score, it goes a little something like this: Back in the good old days we kept the poor, the young and the black man down by awful deadly viruses such as small pox, ruebella and polio. Then scientists discovered that these dreadful diseases could be prevented by one or a series of injections (don't ask me how immunisations actually work, I'm no scientician). Everyone was happy, and the prevalence of these diseases decreased dramatically (at least in the Western World- if you want to help immunise those in developing countries, you can, and should, donate here:

This is, until the 1990's, when the horror of those diseases and the pain, disability and death they cause were a distant memory for most people. Along came Dr Andrew Wakefield, who published a medical article stating that he had found a link between the common MMR (measles, mumps, ruebella) vaccine and autism in children. As the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders had exploded in the past decade, it is completely understandable why parents jumped on this bandwagon. It's so much easier to blame a third party than to accept that there was nothing that could be done for your child to be "normal".

Even though the research provided by Dr Wakefield has since been discredited, and allegations of conflict of interest have been somewhat proven, the link between MMR and autism, and immunisation and abnormal child development in general, has stuck. Now parents don't tend to attribute they refusal to have their child vaccinated to Dr Wakefield's research specifically, but often cite "religious reasons" for not vaccinating their child.

Which brings me to the Huff Post article. According to this paper, many State laws in the US are making it incresingly easier for parents to refuse to vaccinate their children on this ground. At what point do we say "you don't have the right to bodily integrity, one of our most basic human rights, because you may endanger other people"? Apparently, many US States have changed their answer to this question, and are adjusting their laws accordingly.

One question that I'm always left asking is "do the parents of the child realise the impact of their non comforming is probably not going to impact on them, but someone else who did not have the choice, such as someone elderly who's vaccine has worn off and is weak, or a child who is not old enough to have been immunised"?

At the end of the day, I do side with "herd immunity", but I'm not completely comfortable about it. Also, we must ask ourselves if the governement can ovverride the rights of the child for the good of society, can we override the rights of the adult? Does society have the right to make it compulsory for adults who have not been immunised to do so?

What do other people think? Individual freedom, or rights of the collective?


  1. Very interesting post.

    I definitely think it should be compulsory for children to be immunised. Either way the child is not getting a say in what happens and I think its better to defer to medical professionals rather than parents.

    Adults are more difficult, as people should get a say about what happens to their bodies. But if the decision they make impacts on other people, why should it be solely their decision?

    We do similar things elsewhere in society. Think about speed limits, we restrict people's rights to make their own judgements on what is safe because if they get it wrong it can have terrible impacts on the lives of others.

    1. Ooh good comparison with the speed limits, bro! As much as "individualism" is espoused these days, we are a social species, and should feel responsible for other people and mindful of our actions should they impinge upon others. But that's another story!!!