The UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has said in a statement that the government does not want to impose mandatory vaccinations for all children but given the current situation with the measles outbreak, they are forced to “consider all options”.
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Last week, UNICEF released a report stating that more than half a million children in the UK were not vaccinated against common vaccine-preventable viral diseases like measles between 2010 and 2017. Parents and advocates against vaccinations (also known as 'anti-vaxxers') have been blamed for the low uptake rates, with the World Health Organization (WHO) naming anti-vaxxers as one of the top ten health global threats earlier this year.
Speaking to The Times, Mr. Hancock said: “The evidence is clear... vaccination is good for you and your children and, critically, protects people who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons. Those who have promoted the anti-vaccination myth are morally reprehensible, deeply irresponsible and have blood on their hands.”
'We need to consider all options'
In order to protect those who cannot be vaccinated (also known as herd immunity), the WHO recommends that at least 95 percent of the population are vaccinated. At present, only 91 percent of adults have been vaccinated.
Hancock also spoke to BBC Radio 4, saying, “I do think we need to consider all options. Failure to vaccinate when there isn't a good reason is wrong. Those people who campaign against vaccination are campaigning against science. The science is settled. I don't want to have to reach the point of compulsory vaccination, but I will rule nothing out. I don't want to reach that point and I don't think we are near there, but there is a huge programme of work to increase the proportion of children that are vaccinated.”
He added, “If you don't vaccinate your children, it is not only your child that is at risk, it is also other children, including children who for medical reasons can't be vaccinated. Vaccination is good for you, good for your child, good for your neighbor and your community.”
Adding to the debate, a UK politician said that failure to immunize a child should be a “criminal offense” early last week.
'Fake news and pernicious propaganda'
The percentage of children under-five who have received the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine has fallen to just 87.2 percent in England over the past four years say officials. If the requisite 95 percent coverage is not met, infants and adults and elderly (with diseases such as cancer) remain vulnerable to potentially life-threatening infections.
Public Health England reported 32 confirmed cases of measles between January and March this year. This is a huge increase from previous years, with 3 cases for the same period in 2018 and 8 cases in 2017.
Dr. Kristina Poole from Public Health England North West said in a statement, “The majority of the cases are in unvaccinated children.”
Jon Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary for the UK Government, writes, “The spread of this ‘anti-vax disinformation’ on social media is pernicious and potentially fuels a public health crisis in the UK….I’m also calling on the NHS to promote messages outlining the importance of vaccinations on social media and the high risks of ignoring such advice."
"Vaccinations have been one of the most important public health interventions of the last 70 years since the creation of the NHS. We can’t allow fake news and pernicious propaganda to undermine a medical advance that has helped save so many lives. This is about the health and wellbeing of our children. It would be a shameful tragedy if we failed them by not acting.”
The problem is not unique to the UK
German Health Minister, Jens Spahnhas, recently drafted legislation which states that parents must vaccinate their children against measles or face having their children excluded from daycare or being fined.
Since 2000, cases of measles in the nation have peaked. In a statement, Spahnhas said, “I want to eradicate measles. Anyone going to a kindergarten or school should be vaccinated against measles.”
He said that all parents would need to show proof that their children are vaccinated against measles by July 2020, adding "Whoever does not get their child vaccinated, faces up to 2,500 euros in fines.”
The move is supported by conservative leaders, as well as the left-sided Social Democrat (SPD) party. SPD health policy expert Karl Lauterbach said, “It will not work without fines.”
At present, only 93 percent of the children are vaccinated against measles and they are still short of the 95 percent target. Spahn says that this legislation would help protect young babies who cannot be vaccinated yet but are vulnerable.
United States of America
Measles has made a comeback in the United States, with over 700 confirmed cases across 22 states in the past year. Of these, around 66 patients were hospitalized, with one in three of these patients going on to develop pneumonia. Around 500 of those with the infection were not vaccinated, report officials.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all parents need to vaccinate their children against measles. Initially, President Donald Trump seemed skeptical of vaccines, making obscure and disproven comments about measles vaccine and autism. He has since changed his stance, saying, “they have to get the shots.”
This week, around 1000 university students from 2 universities in Los Angeles (UCLA and Cal State-LA) were quarantined in response to a suspected measles outbreak on the campus. At Cal State-LA 875 students, staff, faculty and visitors and at UCLA 129 students and faculty were quarantined respectively.
According to health officials, two days the quarantine was put in place, 325 of the students were cleared to return after they proved that they had been vaccinated against the infection or had natural immunity after contracting the disease earlier in life.
Dr Armand Dorian, chief medical officer at the University of Southern California's Verdugo Hills Hospital warned in a statement, “Measles actually kills people, so we have to take that really seriously.”