No childhood jab is 100pc risk-free, but the results of not vaccinating are frightening
TO vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question on so many parents' minds. The large majority still opt to vaccinate their children but there are still a lot of parents who are suspicious and mistrusting of vaccinations.
Health organisations have always claimed that vaccinations are harmless and in the main that has proven to be true.
However, the swine flu vaccination, which was rushed through when people started dropping dead from the disease, has now been linked to cases of narcolepsy. A report has found that 54 people in Ireland contracted narcolepsy as the result of Pandemrix, the vaccine used in response to the swine flu pandemic that began in 2009.
The injection, which has not been in use since 2011, has been shown to increase children's risk of narcolepsy – a chronic disorder which causes excessive daytime sleepiness.
However, it is important to note that the vast majority of children who received the jab are well and are fully expected to remain so.
As parents, we trust that the vaccinations administered to our children are safe, but nothing is 100pc safe. Every child's DNA is different and in some, very rare cases, they can react badly to a vaccination.
But what's the alternative – to expose your child to the very real risks of potentially fatal diseases?
Measles used to kill thousands of people in Europe and the United States every year. In the 1940s and 1950s, tens of thousands of children were crippled or killed by polio. As recently as the mid 1980s, 100 children a year in Ireland suffered from meningitis and other serious complications as a result of Hib infection.
These diseases have not changed or gone away. They can still cause pneumonia, meningitis, brain damage and heart problems in children who are not protected.
With the huge increase in travel, infected people are moving freely between countries and so the risk to children and teenagers who are not vaccinated is significantly higher.
Measles, which is a highly infectious disease, has come back with a vengeance in mainland Europe, with significant outbreaks in France, Spain and Belgium, where many Irish families holiday.
Since the start of 2011 there have been more than 10,000 cases of measles in Europe with four fatalities. What are parents to do? It's not an easy decision but when you see statistics like these, it is certainly hard to argue against the benefits of having your child vaccinated.
In 1998, parents' unease and concerns about vaccinations were sorely tested when British doctor Andrew Wakefield published a study claiming that autism was linked to childhood vaccines.
The study preyed on nervous parents' minds and mass panic ensued. In Britain alone, over a million parents refused to have their children vaccinated with the MMR for fear of causing autism. The cases of measles went through the roof in Britain.
In 2010, when an investigation published in the 'British Medical Journal' (BMJ) concluded that Wakefield altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients in the study, he was stripped of his medical licence. But the damage was done, a seed of doubt was planted and many parents still hold reservations about vaccinating their children.
But the results of non-vaccination are frightening. Last year, researchers confirmed that a 2010 whooping cough outbreak in California, the nation's worst in over 50 years, was spread by children whose parents applied for non-medical exemptions to school vaccinations. The study showed that more cases of whooping cough occurred in the clusters of unvaccinated children than not, resulting in 9,120 instances of the disease and 10 deaths.
In Pakistan, polio remains an epidemic because the Taliban has banned aid workers from vaccinating children. Health workers attempting to distribute vaccines in Pakistan have been attacked and killed. According to estimates from the World Health Organisation a ban on polio vaccinations imposed by the Taliban will affect about 280,000 children living in tribal areas of northwest Pakistan.
The Taliban's ridiculous excuse is that they believe the oral polio vaccine (OPV) is a ploy by the US to reduce the population of Muslims.
When we look back at the history of diseases and the effectiveness of vaccinations, it is astounding how far we have come. Vaccinations are one of the most incredible aspects of modern medicine. They can make previously lethal diseases disappear from society and save countless lives.
It is up to every parent to make up their own mind and do what they feel is best for their own child. But it is important to bear in mind that not vaccinating your child could have potential real-life consequences both inside and outside your home.