Herd Immunity. Those two words describe one of the overarching goals of vaccinations. If enough children in a community are immunised against a disease, then that infection will no longer be able to travel through that community and it can potentially herald its demise.
Let’s look at an ancient killer, a sickness that took the lives of thousands of children – Smallpox. You’ve likely not heard that uttered in play groups or whispered about nervously in schools because this illness has been, according to the World Health Organization officially declared eradicated since 1979.
Today there are outbreaks of whooping cough and measles taking place in Australia, United States and United Kingdom - diseases that should potentially have been eliminated by now - unfortunately their resurgence is due to a growing anti-vaccination movement that has preyed on the fears of parents with badly presented facts, weak research and outdated information.
MMR causes autism?
That has been disproven. Among other myths and mysteries propagated by the anti-vaccine brigade.
Then there is the rampantly ridiculous – people following the advice of celebrities who have no medical training, no basis for their allegations and are genuinely clueless. Alicia Silverstone’s recent book on how vaccines are full of toxins and babies should just go to the loo on the grass being a case in point.
“I don’t mind her [Alicia Silverstone] saying stuff like ‘Don’t put diapers on your baby’,” says Nimrod Groval*. “Hey, if you want your kid to poop in your living room, that’s your choice, but telling people that vaccines are unsafe and cause autism and other things is just blatantly irresponsible and dangerous.”
While every parent has every right to fear for the health of their child, there has been a lot of research done that shows how important it is to vaccinate and to bring about herd immunity and protect the children in the community.
“There is towering evidence that vaccinations provide the best protection for children against disease,” says Candice McLaughlin*. “It astounds me that people would rather take the word of an uneducated, dim-witted, hippy driver of anti-vaccines over tangible evidence of the success of vaccinations. If you could get vaccinated against HIV are you telling me you wouldn’t take it? It’s a ridiculous movement based in fantasy.”
The issue isn’t just that herd immunity is compromised and children can get sick, it means that babies who are too young to receive their immunisations are vulnerable to diseases that can potentially kill them. Not to mention the impact that these illnesses have on children who are immunosuppressed and cannot be vaccinated.
“There are many children who can’t have live vaccinations, such as the MMR, as they are immunosuppressed,” says Sarah Tremilne*. “These children could have had a transplant and are so vulnerable, because if they do get diseases they don’t have the defences to fight them and are more likely to experience dangerous complications. If you choose to go against all medical advice and not have vaccinations you are not just putting your child in danger, you are bringing these diseases back into the community. If there was real evidence to suggest they can be damaging, fair enough, but there isn’t so it is pure selfishness.”
Most parents interviewed were vociferous in their objections to people not vaccinating their kids, some were a little more forgiving than others…
“I wholeheartedly agree that both evidence and social responsibility require that you vaccinate your children,” says Murray Greenfields*. “However, I think you need to be careful about vilifying those who don’t as few parents willingly expose their children to harm. Those not vaccinating their kids are doing it because they, albeit misguidedly and selfishly, feel they are doing what’s best. Raging about them being hippy nutcases is counterproductive.”
Murray recommends opting for a combination of education and gentle legislation, such as in Canada where you have to be vaccinated to go to school. There is no legal instrument in South Africa to enforce that schools do not take children who have not been immunised. Unfortunately.
“I think the problem isn’t their ignorance, which I could forgive, but their arrogance,” says Olivia Mackay. “These people think they know better than everyone else, that they are smarter than the average person to have seen through this massive vaccine conspiracy.”
Heads up. There isn’t one.
However, it isn’t always a fun thing for a parent to experience as Caitlin O’Neill* explains: “My daughter had an unusual reaction to the second of her three 7-in-1 jabs and she was virtually catatonic for a week. It was terrifying and yet none of the medical professionals I saw could tell me what was happening.”
Caitlin contacted the makers of the vaccine and got the information from them that explained that her daughter was one in 5000 who could experience this reaction. She still went ahead with future vaccines, but she didn’t follow the prescribed schedule and waited for her children to be a bit older as she moved through the required list.
“Now I advise parents to get the leaflets and read up on the vaccines so they are prepared,” says Caitlin.
Still, she never considered leaving her children without protection against deadly illnesses either.
“Imagine the day my little one gets some awful disease that has been wiped out in the developed world and is frightfully ill and asks me why I didn’t vaccinate her,” says Nicola Mandelsson*. “And my only answer is that I took her life in my hands and chose not to protect her because of some ill-founded research and that I erred on the side of unproven stats with a one in a million chance instead of doing the best I can for her.”
Playing around with a child’s health is no game and should never be left to vague facts, dramatic myths or celebrity endorsement, as Jon Tandermayer* concludes…
“You can do whatever weird nonsense you like to your own body. If you want to turn your back on a couple of thousand years of progress and development and trust your health to fairy juice and magic water and goodness knows what other levels of caveman-level ignorance, then good luck to you. However, you have a duty to your children and they are not in a position to make decisions about their welfare. Your job is to protect them.”
*Names changed by request
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Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.