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Why Vaccination Should be Compulsory

Why Vaccination Should be Compulsory

Posted 2/25/2015

Imbuing you with subtle dreadImbuing you with subtle dreadI am a big believer in personal choice. This naturally puts me in a position to be against enforced or mandatory immunisation. But the recent discussion in the US following a measles outbreak and a death in Germany has changed my mind. I want to share some of my reasons why.

First, let's get some of the facts out of the way: (i) vaccination saves lives and (ii) vaccines do not cause autism.

It is so much better to be vaccinated than it is to get measles, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases that there is no meaningful debate to be had on that point.

But this alone is not enough to justify mandatory immunisation.

One common thread in the reports advocating vaccination has been the importance of education, both for parents and the doctors who may need to sooth their fears. These efforts are to be applauded and I don't want to take anything away from them, but these campaigners are up against a generation of parents who have no personal experience of many of the diseases that vaccines prevent. As measles hopefully becomes an ever more distant memory, the struggle will only become more difficult.

Another highlight of recent discussions has been the psychology of denial. Humans, as a group, are frankly rubbish at making good decisions. We assess risk badly and we look for evidence that supports our existing beliefs, ignoring anything that contradicts them. Add to that our propensity to get sucked into conspiracy theories and it's no wonder immunisation rates are struggling to keep their head above the murky waters of the Internet.

It is therefore not overly pessimistic to say that education and public pressure alone are ultimately doomed to fail in keeping up vaccination rates. As a consequence, more people will die from preventable diseases.

But, for me, even that is not enough to justify mandatory immunisation. It is never possible to prevent every unfortunate death and vaccination, despite its obvious benefits, is not magical.

Instead, what started to sway me was a mantra chanted by those campaigning for parent choice over vaccinations. To support their view, these campaigners claim that parents have the right to choose what they inject into their children's bodies.

Rights do not outweigh responsibilitiesRights do not outweigh responsibilitiesNo. No they do not. That is a horrifying thought!

What parents have are responsibilities to protect their children while they are too young and fragile to protect themselves. If, for example, those parents decide to inject something dangerous into their children's bodies, the full force of the law should be brought against them.

I am aware of the irony that this is exactly the argument used by those who refuse to vaccinate: that vaccines are dangerous so parents should be free to say 'no'. But that irony highlights the argument that, for me, tipped the scales in favour of mandatory vaccination.

Vaccines cannot be described as dangerous, but they are also not 100% safe. Vaccines save lives, but a tiny minority of people do have reactions to them and some of those reactions are severe enough to do serious damage or even cause death.

That is a lot of responsibility to place on a parent. Perhaps too much responsibility. What if your child was the one in a million that suffers a severe adverse reaction to a vaccine? You had the choice to say no, but you didn't and now you blame yourself. That could lead to lifelong regret.

Mandatory vaccination would take the responsibility off the shoulders of the parent in those rare cases when something goes wrong, and put it onto the shoulders of the lawmakers, the government.

Can governments handle that responsibility? No, probably not. Would mistakes be made? Almost certainly. But provided that the responsiblity is taken seriously enough, the policies based on well-researched scientific evidence, and the laws in place to obtain damages in those rare cases where damage is done, the balance for me is tipped in favour of making the most important vaccinations compulsory.


This post is largely opinion rather than 'truth', and I welcome contrary opinions in the comment box below.