Matt Hancock has revealed the government is looking at banning children from school if they do not get vaccinated.
In an interview with HuffPost UK at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Sunday, the health secretary said there is a “very strong argument” for making vaccinations compulsory for children.
Hancock said it was “unbelievable” the UK had lost its measles-free status.
“There is a very strong argument for having compulsory vaccinations for children for when they go to school - because otherwise they are putting other children at risk,” he said.
Hancock revealed he had been given legal advice this week on how the new policy could be implemented - and believed “the public would back us”.
“Actually, I’ve received advice inside government this week on how we might go about it. And I’m looking very seriously at it.”
His stance represents a significant shift on his previous remarks, when he talked only about ‘not ruling out’ compulsion.
In a message to parents, he said: “If you don’t vaccinate your child and you can, then the person you are putting at risk is not only your own child but it is also the child who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.”
The health secretary also told social media companies had “a lot to answer for” by allowing the “spread of anti-vaxxing messages”.
Hancock said the science “absolutely settled and clear” and warned once vaccination rates dropped below 95% the “herd immunity” which protects vulnerable children is lost.
“Now you’ve got to make sure the system would work, because some children can’t be vaccinated and some may hold very strong religious convictions that you want to take into account,” he said.
“But frankly, the proportion of people in either of those two categories is tiny compared to the 7% or 8% now who don’t get vaccinated.”
He said he would ‘make it very easy’ for children who arrive at school to get vaccinated “and make it the norm”.
“But I think there is a very strong argument for moving to compulsory vaccination and I think the public would back us.”
Earlier this month, New York joined California, Mississippi and West Virginia in revoking the religious exemptions for mandatory vaccinations in the United States.
In the event on the fringes of the Tory conference, Hancock also offered a strong defence of the sugar tax. He said the evidence it worked was “terrific”.
“I am not proposing we ban sugary drinks,” he said. “But we’ve got to tax something.”
Hancock added: “Lets levy taxes on things that are actively bad.”
But the health secretary also reassured Tory members in the audience that while he thought baked beans tasted “disgusting”, he was not going to argue that they should be banned.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.