I’m in favour of vaccination, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s call for compulsory vaccination, back in September 2019, didn’t get the attention it deserved – I’m going to address it now. It struck me as the kind of ‘well meaning’ but plain bad policy we can come to expect from increasingly invasive government in the UK. Hancock wants to make it easy to become vaccinated if you’re not, but also mandatory – it sounds like a recipe for slapdash to me. And slapdash and medical procedures (especially compulsory ones) should not go together. He’s right to be concerned about the falling number of vaccinations for childhood diseases, and to be worried that the UK has lost its measles free status. But it’s one thing to be rightly worried, and another thing to wrongly fix it. And a wrong thing done for the right reasons is still a wrong thing.
As I said, I am in favour of vaccination. I am vaccinated, my kids are vaccinated. The science is sound and the medical outcomes good when we see the population as a whole. But there is a massive leap in the wrong direction, in my opinion, to see the overall picture benefit and conclude that vaccinations should be compulsory and tied to school attendance. That’s because everyone is different, not all vaccines suit all people. Sure, the risks of serious side effects are low, and the risks of the diseases we get vaccinated for are deemed higher, and so most people choose to vaccinate and are better off for it.
However, one size doesn’t fit all. According to a 2003 Guardian report, the vaccine pressure group Jabs registered 2,000 vaccine-damaged children between January 1994 and August 2003. That equates very approximately, based on my own back of an envelope calculation, to about 0.03% of the kids born in that decade. The risk is low, but for the small percent of individuals affected badly it’s very real.
It’s understandable, therefore, that some parents might be hesitant, when the state’s blanket approach seems to ignore the outliers, the ones that could be worse off from ‘the jab’. And there is another problem, people can’t talk about it. To even point out this fact of life is to open oneself up to the accusation of being an anti-vaxxer. I hope I’ve already made my position clear. But let me be clear about something else, it’s not for the state to abandon making a solid case for vaccination and force it on people instead. It’s against their human rights for a start, and I suspect they will get much more criticism and withdrawal by taking such an approach, thereby damaging their cause rather than helping it.
The reality is that it’s parents and guardians who need to take responsibility for each of their children’s health, and each child could have different needs. Parental responsibility and individual needs are both things a heavy handed compulsory approach will likely negate. Will the state offer immunity testing? Screening for negative reactions to specific vaccines? Single jabs as alternatives to the combined vaccines to anyone, and everyone, who requests them? Or will they just push children through on auto and then ignore the consequences.
Rather than forcing vaccination by legislation, those pushing this should be making a better case for vaccination and doing more to restore confidence. They can do that, as well as extend actual knowledge about each vaccine, by effectively applying the “yellow card” system which requires doctors to report any bad reactions. This doesn’t always happen as Jackie Fletcher of Jabs explained in the 2003 Guardian report, in relation to adverse post vaccine reactions “Doctors are told that vaccines don’t cause problems, so they don’t link it and fill out the card”. Fixing this type of hole would go a long way towards restoring the faith of those who’ve lost their trust in vaccinations.
What parents and children don’t need is patronising or bullying. We all want the best for our kids, and we want to feel confident that our kids are not being harmed when we think they are being helped. Legislation to coerce vaccination works against building confidence. Listening to parents, providing screening and a flexible approach to those who want it, will build confidence. Legislating for coercion is not only lazy, but a degree of authoritarianism we don’t need in this country.