Vaccination has been one of the great medical accomplishments and one of the most effective health promotion measures. Smallpox, previously a deadly disease where 30 per cent of people who caught it died, has been eradicated. Other diseases such as polio have seen a drastic decrease in the number of cases since vaccines were developed. The new HPV vaccine can now help protect our children from cancer. It almost seems too good to be true – and yet some parents do not vaccinate their children.
The current hysteria about childhood vaccinations has its roots in the controversial research published by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998. He linked the MMR vaccine with causing autism in previously developmentally normal children. Dr Wakefield’s research has since been widely discredited and he has been struck off the medical register in the UK. The MMR controversy led to reduced uptake of the MMR vaccine in Britain – hundreds of thousands of children are not protected against measles, mumps or rubella today as a result.
The “anti-vax movement”, especially prominent in the US, has been bolstered by support from celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy and Robert De Niro, both of whom have autistic children. Unfortunately, their voices reach millions and wrongly spread false information. Their personal testimonies are heartfelt and delivered dramatically. Scientists, with hard science and data, are unable to convey the safe vaccination message as widely and as convincingly, sadly.
Currently, Europe is in the midst of a measles outbreak, with over 40,000 cases alone this year and 37 deaths. This year has been part of a worrying trend, with measles cases on the rise year on year. The vast majority of these cases could have been avoided had they been vaccinated.
Vaccinations don’t just protect the child who has had the injection. If enough people have had the vaccine and are now immune to a disease, the likelihood of it spreading is much lower. This is because it makes it less likely for the disease to jump from one person to another, as most are immune. Even those who haven’t had the vaccine are less likely to contract the disease because fewer people are infectious. Of course, for people to be protected in this way, many have to be vaccinated.
Preventing disease is always much harder and less glamorous than a quick-fire solution. We all know that we should exercise more and eat healthier if we are to prevent heart disease in the future and yet we always put off going for that run. Part of the problem is that we may never see the results. We all know people who live well but have been unfortunate enough to have had heart attacks. Thankfully, vaccination is easy and virtually guaranteed (though maybe not entirely glamorous). If your child is vaccinated properly, it is extremely unlikely she will contract the disease she is being vaccinated for.
There are no good reasons for you not to vaccinate your children. All childhood vaccinations are free on the NHS and easily accessible through your GP. If you have missed an injection, you may still be able to have it at a later date. Vaccination has saved millions of lives. It has the potential to save many, many more. Vaccinate your children today.
Tom Ngan is a junior doctor working in A&E