MMR vaccination shouldn't be on opt-in basis

Times-Herald Editorial Staff
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There are some areas in life where choice should not be a part of the equation.

A nurse prepares a vaccine shot against measles at a clinic in Beijing, China, Sept. 11, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Alexander F. Yuan

Obeying the law, so long as the law is fair. Respecting your fellow human beings — which, in a sense, plays into that first point on the law.

Another area where choice shouldn’t play into the situation is in getting vaccinated.

The anti-vaccination craze began in 1998, when former doctor Andrew Wakefield published a research paper later found to be fraudulent in the medical journal The Lancet.

The paper suggested the existence of a possible strain of colitis that could be caused by the MMR vaccine — a vaccination which protects against the measles, mumps and rubella viruses. It also drew a connection between the strain and autism.

Wakefield’s suggestions were sensational, and the U.K. media picked the story up en masse a few years later when he published a few more papers more firmly stating the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.

Still, the hysteria had for the most part stayed on that side of the Atlantic, and scientific fact appeared to be winning the fight, until American celebrity Jenny McCarthy took up the call a decade after the paper was published on a Larry King Live special.

“I’m not … anti-vaccine,” McCarthy told King on the programme. “The thing is, the way I treated Evan … is not treating autism. (I am) treating vaccine injury.”

Again, the fight was on, and even a full retraction of Wakefield’s paper in 2010 didn’t bring every North American back into the vaccination fold.

There has been much discussion over who is responsible for the ensuing anti-vaccination sentiment, the illnesses and death it has caused, and so forth.

Fingers can be pointed in plenty of directions: Wakefield, McCarthy, and even the journalists who reported on the details without giving full scope to the story, one could argue, all carry a share of the blame.

But the problem is that finger-wagging and the blame game shouldn’t be an issue because vaccination shouldn’t even be a choice.

Vaccines save lives.

But because they don’t provide 100 per cent immunity to the viruses they aim to prevent, effective immunization relies on maximum spread of the vaccine within a given community.

Put simply: the more people who are immunized, the safer the community.

And yet, in Five Hills Health Region (FHHR), vaccination rates could be higher.

According to Dr. Mark Vooght, public health officer, the coverage rate in January was 77 per cent among children who have reached two years of age. Among those who are seven years of age, the rate was 90 or 91 per cent.

“Unfortunately, that’s not enough to stop a potential outbreak,” he told the Times-Herald at the time.

There are some cultures that reject the practice of vaccination, and some families continue to believe vaccinations present risks to the health of those who receive them.

The former is not sound enough justification to avoid immunization. The latter is based on mere superstition and misguided anecdotal argument.

The facts stand overwhelmingly on side with vaccination — so much so that doctors in Canada are calling for a national vaccine registry and urging people to get the MMR vaccine.

Ordinarily and in matters where the public’s safety and wellbeing is not at risk, the Times-Herald would advocate strongly on the side of personal choice. But the decision not to vaccinate isn’t a personal one — it’s one that impacts entire communities.

The fewer people who are vaccinated, the greater the risk of infection and potential outbreak.

When the public’s wellbeing is a concern, a decision this simple shouldn’t be left to individuals to make.

All Times-Herald editorials are written by its editorial staff.

Organizations: Times-Herald, North American

Geographic location: U.K., Canada

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Recent comments

  • Rita
    April 01, 2014 - 15:16

    Forcing vaccination is forcing a medical procedure that has the potential to injure or kill - free societies should find this abhorrent. There is no vaccine injury compensation in Canada (except Quebec). So if you or your child has an injury you are on your own.