More measles? More TB?
Finding three cases of measles in this region in 2019 (barely half-over) has re-ignited the debate over making vaccinations mandatory. Measles was once conquered, easily avoided by childhood vaccinations. Yet it’s back. So, too, is tuberculosis. Could even polio come next? These scourges of humanity were considered gone, and, given their seriousness, their partial return has prompted ... degrees of hysteria.
After so much costly research and world-wide mobilization to defeat these diseases, today’s resurgences prompt many to look for villains – somebody’s to blame! – and there are villains: families that refuse to vaccinate, thus opening the door, however modestly, for these diseases’ return.
The most common impulse is to come down hard on those who are refusing inoculations. It would be tragic enough if these families’ children were the only ones affected, and they are, as are the elderly and travellers whose immunity may have expired.
Anger is a simplistic response, although understandable – especially from parents who do vaccinate their own kids. Few people will play with fire when it could scorch their own children, yet a minority do, and the majority is then threatened. The majority can get themselves re-vaccinated! Every six years for whooping cough, 20 for polio.
Rather than a sledgehammer, what might encourage vaccinating would be to require immunization (medically certified) to enter school. Others want negligent parents penalized – fines, loss of family benefits, or even public shaming. Uganda legalized imprisonment! Or quarantine unprotected kids – like US child-detention centres for migrants?
In 2018, world measles cases topped 300,000 for the first time. Ebola is spreading in Africa (to Texas by travellers), partially due to fear of vaccinations. And when we hear of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, vaccination seems even more essential.
But draconian measures can do more harm than good. For example, school-mandatory vaccinations means more parents might opt to home-school or send their kids to religious or “charter” schools which do not have this requirement. This does no one any good, especially our future citizenry that will depend on a complex and modern education. One option is to make exemptions legal, but more in-depth; families would need the agreement of a physician-councillor, and after several meetings. Religious or “philosophical” exemptions, and self-reporting without evidence, would be unacceptable.
Financial penalties just make life more difficult for low-income families, contributing to unhappiness, delinquency and low social mobility. The idea is that forced compliance breeds resistance and feeds today’s anti-establishment and anti-science impulses.
Why not more public awareness campaigns, more discussion of misconceptions and fake-news (that vaccines contain baby-parts, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, or cause autism or abnormalities, etc.), more reminders to parents, and general emphasis on scientific evidence (and not speculative conspiracy theories)? Our society’s addiction to fear makes positive responses difficult. But a heavy-handed approach is likely counter-productive, as it is in so many things.