Startling evidence on measles cases should spur us towards hardline action against anti-vaxxer parents

James Moore
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Startling evidence on measles cases should spur us towards hardline action against anti-vaxxer parents

If you were to leave a one-year-old unattended in the home for any length of time and social services found out, the chances are they’d be on you like a fired up NFL defensive end in pursuit of a quarterback. Nor would anyone argue if you were left gasping for breath on the turf afterwards.

But if you avoid getting the same child vaccinated against potentially lethal diseases, the worst you might have to put up with is a talking to from your harassed and overworked GP who really ought to be focusing on better things than dealing with an irresponsible fool of a parent.

But which is the bigger risk? I’d argue the second, and it’s not even close.

Skipping vaccinations means you’re not only exposing your child to potentially life-threatening diseases that can have very nasty consequences for those lucky enough to survive them. You’re also putting every child your little darling comes into contact with at risk, as the growing number of outbreaks of measles, a disease that ought to have been all but consigned to the history books by now, proves.

Vaccination is safe and effective. The only people arguing against it are quacks, charlatans and people who think X Files scripts are based on real-life events. And it’s free too.

Despite this, more than half a million kids missed their measles jabs between 2010 and 2017.

Those figures are from Unicef, the charity. When it comes to developed nations they put the UK in a dismal third place behind only the US and France.

Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, described the figures as a “growing public health time bomb” and he’s not over-egging it.

To work properly, vaccination relies upon mass take up so as to confer “herd immunity” on populations. This is necessary to protect those who might otherwise still be at risk after their jabs. I’m talking here about people with compromised immune systems.

Get too many people listening to quacks, charlatans and people who think X Files scripts are based on real-life events, and the system that protects us from a host of invisible microbial killers starts to break down.

So how to address the issue? I find being on the same side as health secretary Matt Hancock to be anathema. Yet his call for new laws to force social media companies to cease promoting false information about vaccines is well made.

Pages devoted to the ludicrous anti-vaxx movement lock members into a destructive ecosystem that fortifies and validates their fantasies and draws others in. They spread misinformation and lies like, well, a disease.

He might also have taken a shot at broadcasters. Both the BBC and ITV have been guilty of featuring anti-vaxx “activists” on their programmes. In so doing, they confer a false legitimacy upon their “opinions” that are in fact and I mean fact nothing more than dangerous fantasies.

There is no debate to be had here. Those same broadcasters would not, for example, feature someone claiming that it’s safe to jump off a tall building without a parachute and pointing to false research to back up their claims. Yet if anti-vaxxers are shouty enough to make good TV, they get invited into the studio and onto the sofa.

It has to stop.

But it should go further than that. This is where we can and should call Hancock out because while social media companies, and media companies in general, have caused a great deal of damage through their indulgence of fruit loop anti-vaxxers, it’s too easy just to put the responsibility for dealing with this problem on to them. It was there before they helped it to metastasise it.

A responsible government (yes, I know what you’re going to say about this one) should be considering further steps to address the problem up to and including sanctioning the parents who choose to deny their children vaccinations.

To my mind they are guilty not just of abusing their own children, they are also guilty of abusing other people’s. We wouldn’t tolerate that in any other circumstances. We wouldn’t allow a parent to leave their child at risk by leaving them unsupervised at a young age. We shouldn’t allow anti-vaxxers to hurt their kids and ours.