Why do so many intelligent, loving parents choose not to have their kids vaccinated?
It’s something I ask myself every time I hear about yet another outbreak of measles or avoidable death from whooping cough or the like.
There are increasing numbers of doctors refusing to allow children who have not been vaccinated into their clinics for fear that they will infect babies too young to be immunised or people with compromised immune systems. And I can’t really say that I blame them. Why should others have to pay for the selfishness of a parent who won’t vaccinate their child?
Yet it’s easy to assume that the people who, for whatever reasons, are totally against immunisation, are under-educated, misinformed, ignorant of the facts, or just not bothered, but in many cases, the opposite is the case.
A study in the American Journal of Public Health, which surveyed 11,860 families, found that mothers who had not finished high school were 16pc more likely to have completed the whole vaccination schedule for their children. The less educated, the more take up of vaccines? Two hundred years earlier, it was the other way around. What was going on?
Dr Kronenfeld, a professor of sociology in the School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University, said: “There is a controversy among more educated mothers about the safety of certain kinds of immunisation. That may be part of what is going on here, but we don’t know for sure.”
In the UK, the British Journal of Medicine reported that “Mothers of children receiving no MMR vaccine at all were more likely than those receiving combined MMR vaccine to live in England, have more than two children, be either younger or older, be single mothers, be unemployed or self-employed, be more highly educated, be a smoker and for the child to be a boy.
“Mothers of children receiving single vaccines had slightly different characteristics (compared with those receiving combined MMR vaccine). They were more likely to live in England, have one child only, be older, have a higher income, be not employed, be more highly educated and be white.”
Here in Ireland, in North Cork, hardly a black spot of ignorance and poverty, immunisation levels have been reported to be under 27pc.
In 2011, in Ireland we had nearly 200 cases of the measles, 75pc of which had not been vaccinated. And in 2013, we clocked up the highest rate of measles in all of Europe.
Every year, 1.5 million deaths worldwide are due to vaccine-preventable diseases, but yet educated, sensible Irish parents are choosing not to have their children vaccinated.
The 1996 Lancet piece by Andrew Wakefield — when he asserted a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism — has been well and truly trashed at this stage. Millions of lives have been saved and terrible disabilities averted since vaccines were introduced, and yet reports show that parents who don’t vaccinate usually know all of the vaccine ingredients, side-effects, and details of these diseases.
They often choose not to vaccinate after many weeks and months of reading journals, books, articles, manufacturer’s information. And yet, in my opinion and that of many professionals, after all this research, they come to the wrong, and potentially deadly, conclusion: that vaccines are not the health miracle the rest of us believe them to be.
One high-profile example is Jenny McCarthy, actress, former Playboy cover girl and model, a mother who spent years looking up information online on vaccinations. She has repeatedly questioned the safety of vaccines and has campaigned for greater awareness of what she sees as their risks. McCarthy has a boy with autism-like symptoms that she is convinced were caused by the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), despite there being no evidence that this was the case.
The issue has long worried me. And so I decided to ask a mother I know, Antonia Leslie, a writer, who is passionate about her right to be “pro-choice” as she puts it, where vaccinations are concerned.
She told me: “I’m pro-choice, as they say. Personally, after all the research I’ve done over the years, there is much truths and propaganda on both sides of the argument.
“But I would choose not to vaccinate or over-vaccinate as, long term, it plays havoc on the immune system and many of the vaccines out there are ineffective.”
Antonia is very suspicious of those doctors and medical experts who insist that herd vaccination is needed to defeat outbreaks of infectious diseases, telling me that this is mainly because they “go to med [ical] school (which is financed by the pharmaceutical industry) and go by the info and statistics that the science papers that are financed by the same industries tell you”.
Antonia says: “There are so many other studies and statistics from the inception of vaccines that state otherwise — so much conflicting hard evidence. I really started looking at the official med[ical] journal studies and the mountains of evidence from doctors and scientists who had once thought like this and changed their mind through more research.”
Antonia, a mother to Lola, said her daughter had her first shots, but no more. “Then I read up more and I never allowed her her boosters or MMR or any after that,” she says. “She got her childhood immunities from getting chicken pox etc for real.
“I just boosted her natural immunities when she got the actual viruses with vitamin D3, Vitamin C
and garlic, and they all lasted about three days without even a fever. She is the healthiest child I know, she never gets sick.”
I put Antonia’s belief that she was entitled to choose whether or not she wanted to have her child vaccinated or not to physicist in medicine and science journalist, Dr David Robert Grimes, who has written extensively on the subject.
He told me: “People forget that only decades ago, infectious diseases were major killers. Vaccination is second only to clean water in terms of life-saving health interventions and it is difficult to overstate how incredible it is that we have eradicated diseases like smallpox and made illness such as polio a rarity.
“But as first-hand experience of the human cost of infectious illness has left our collective memory, we have become somewhat complacent and this puts us on a precarious edge. European and American countries have recently experienced an unprecedented resurgence of measles, a disease once practically wiped out”.
Measles is incredibly infectious: each single case on average leads to 12-18 secondary infections. Measles is always unpleasant, and can have serious lasting physical and neurological consequences, including death.
Because of the virulence of the disease, a high-herd immunity is required of around 94pc to act as a firewall to the spread of infection, protecting those at risk who cannot be immunised like the very young or those with pre-existing medical conditions which preclude vaccination. But as we have become either apathetic or arrogant enough to think we know more that centuries of medical research, we currently hover at worrying low levels of vaccine uptake.
This is a point that those demanding vaccination be “their choice” do not seem to grasp — their reckless insistence puts not only themselves at risk, but others too. It is a negligence that not only affects them, but everyone around them, like a drunk driver insisting they should have the right to speed on a public motorway.
It’s entirely understandable that doctors would not want dangerously unvaccinated people in their office, because then those with compromised immune systems or small children are put at risk of deathly position. To me, this utterly nullifies the “free choice” argument. Public good has to come first and there is simply no medical reason to oppose this harmless, life-saving provision.”
Unlike Antonia, Grimes says that the recent resurgence of measles has already been determined to be the result of “substandard vaccine compliance” and not due to a child who had just been vaccinated.
Now, I would be totally persuaded by Robert’s arguments here, after all, he is an expert and the facts back up his case. But Antonia is not persuaded.
She says: “I could give numerous examples of vaccine fraudulent studies and conflicts of interest for vaccines, where the same people sitting on the boards at the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) etc were later hauled in by the UN for sitting on the same boards as Glaxo Smith and Co, where they had made huge personal financial gain.”
On infecting others, she says: “I would argue that the vaccinated child is just a big of a statistical risk to spreading the infection, because one sheds for weeks after the vaccine, making one infectious. Also, the strains in the vaccines are different strains than the old natural strains that went around.”
Antonia concludes: “I want to be in the best health I can be and I want that for my child. So it is not in my interest to wilfully go against ‘standard’ medical ‘expert’ advice. Why would I do that if I hadn’t spent years looking at both sides of this divide?”
I realise that no argument I use will persuade Antonia, or many other parents like her, that vaccination is vital to the future health of the human race. This is not surprising. A study on the best way to provide accurate vaccine information to parents who had previously failed to vaccinate their children found that although the parents’ understanding of vaccine safety improved, they were no more likely to
have their children vaccinated.
Some parents became even less likely to vaccinate their children.
It’s depressing, isn’t it? But we must keep insisting that vaccinating our children is the best way to protect them.
The alternative — a world where illnesses like mumps, smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and many other deadly diseases return to wreak havoc on the lives of millions — is unthinkable.