In this series of articles, our medical students will discuss a range of topics from medical ethics to the NHS to public health to medical conditions to clinical governance
Ever since Andrew Wakefield published his appallingly inaccurate article linking the MMR vaccine to autism in 1998, the number of parents allowing their children to have the vaccine has dropped. Even though the article was proven to be incorrect and he was stricken off the medical register, families continue to be sceptical about it. For the vaccine to work, at least 95% of babies born must be vaccinated to gain herd immunity (some children just aren’t able to be, due to immunosuppression or allergies), but uptake was 91.6% in England in 2016-17, and 91.2% in 2017-18. This puts children who aren’t vaccinated at a massive risk, because of a lack of herd immunity. Herd immunity refers to the idea that the pathogen will not be able to spread efficiently when a significant part of the population has immunity against it.
Currently in the UK, the vaccine is not compulsory – it is the choice of the parents whether they allow their child to have it or not. However, this is up for debate for changing.
Some countries have made the MMR vaccine compulsory. For example, from 2018, France have made it mandatory for all children to have the MMR vaccine. This followed from Italy, who made it illegal to go to school unless the child had had the vaccine.
Even though making the vaccine compulsory would give enough herd immunity and allow children to be in a safer environment, is it really the best thing? Taking away the parent’s ability to say no would be taking away their autonomy, making them feel that they don’t have any say in the treatment for their child. It would be better to try and explain the reasoning for having the vaccine rather than just forcing them to have it, as it would allow the parents to make an informed, educated decision rather than a forced one.
On the other hand, due to there being a risk of measles, mumps or rubella becoming an epidemic again, maybe it should be made compulsory. Afterall, before the eradication of smallpox in 1980, its vaccine was made compulsory.