My daughter was born in 1999. The decision on whether to vaccinate children or not at that time was being driven by the MMR controversy after Dr Andrew Wakefield’s research was published establishing a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. As a result, we consulted a private pediatrician who advised us to opt for vaccination. We agreed but with a degree of trepidation. A number of new mums faced the same dilemma among my circle at the local baby and toddler drop in sessions. Our concerns were solely centered around the wellbeing of our children.
Looking back now I am embarrassed at not considering the wider implications of not having my child vaccinated. Was it the fault of science for not informing parents of this? Was it the cocoon of new parenthood that blinkered us all? I don’t know the answer but I do remember that the choice of having a vaccination was presented as a personal choice. To opt for the vaccination meant that you were erring on the side of caution and, if nothing else, your child was ‘safe’. At no time did it occur to me nor was it put to me that not having my daughter vaccinated could cause cause harm to others who came into contact with her.
Private versus public choice is the context for the debate currently framing the news that a woman who had not been vaccinated visited Disneyland in California in December 2014. She infected 7 people but the numbers subsequently being infected hit 84 at the end of January and is growing. The fall out has spread to 7 American states and Mexico. It’s become a national issue and has impinged on politics (Obama has spoken out in support of vaccination) and has become a class issue too because medical experts have noted that rich parents tend to go down the route of ‘personal choice’ with a veto on vaccinations. Even American sport was affected when health officials warned people who were suffering from measles like symptoms to avoid attending the Super Bowl on Sunday 1 February.
Is it time that vaccinations were made a legal requirement? Should parental choice supersede the greater good argument in favor of ‘choosing’ whether to vaccinate their children or not or is there enough evidence to suggest that the causal effect in terms of public health and costs justifies a mandatory requirement?