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Measles cases in Wales have continued to rise as a result of the false Measles scare in the late 1990s due to fraudulent research by Dr Andrew Wakefield . Speaking on BBC Newsnight Dr Offit, an american doctor said Britain would benefit from American-style mandatory vaccinations. Measles is virtually unheard of in the USA as a result.

We generally accept that people have autonomy which gives them the right to refuse treatments that doctors and most others think is best for them.They have the right to make what we would consider bad decisions.But does that extend to parents having the right to make bad decisions for their children? Neon Roberts [see earlier post] was made a ward of court and given radiotherapy for a brain tumour despite his mother’s objections. The judge decided that society could not allow his mother to refuse treatment  and intervened.

Not only does refusal to vaccinate affect a person’s child but it can affect others. Reduced uptake of vaccination results in more cases of the disease. If vaccination rates fall below 95% there will be a loss in what is termed ‘herd immunity’. Herd immunity occurs when the vast majority of a population is so resistant to an infection that that infection is undetectable in that population. Those who can not be vaccinated for medical reasons or those with reduced immunity such as cancer patients are thus protected from the illness. In the USA it is compulsory to show that a child has been vaccinated when it attends school because a non-vaccinated child can be a source of an infectious disease which can spread to other children.    

Should childhood vaccinations be made compulsory? The only successfully eradicated disease was smallpox which was backed by compulsory vaccination.

Answer next week