Childhood vaccination will be mandatory in France from 2018 onward. The move follows similar efforts by the Italian government, which has banned children from attending state schools if they haven’t been vaccinated. Should more countries follow their example?
In many EU countries, vaccinations are promoted by the government but are still optional. Some parents, encouraged by misinformation being spread online, have been reluctant to have their children vaccinated. As a result, Europe has seen a resurgence of deaths from preventable diseases such as measles (with 35 dead from the disease in Europe in the last 12 months alone).
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Cris, who thinks that doctors and the media needs to do more to educate people about the benefits of vaccination. Is he right?
To get a response, we spoke to Jennifer Reich, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado, Denver and author of the book Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines. Why does she think some parents refuse to vaccinate their children?
Having studied this question in the US, what I find is that parents feel like they’re best able to make healthcare decisions for their children and to understand what their children most need, how their children’s bodies might respond, and whether they think these vaccines are important enough to justify whatever risk they’re afraid they might present. In general, parents really want to be in charge of this decision and they trust their own judgement more than they trust expert opinions.
Next up, we had a comment from Nathan, who argues that “governments do not have the right to decide what individuals do with their bodies”. What would Jennifer Reich say to him?
I think it’s important to think about what it means to be part of a community. So, while we could say that the government should never compel someone to add something they don’t want within their body or to intervene in the body, we also have to consider the ways that we share a community space. We need to think about the way we shop at the same markets, the way our children attend schools together; we always have to ask what we can do to protect those who are most vulnerable among us, not just ourselves or our own children. And because we often take advantage of things like funding for schools or public parks or other places that are collectively-supported, we also have to think about how we as individuals can collectively support those same spaces.
Finally, we put a comment to her from Paweł, arguing that vaccination should be compulsory. Currently, vaccination is not mandatory in every EU country. Should it be?
I think the question about what we mean by ‘mandatory’ is interesting. I know many European countries are moving towards systems of penalising parents who choose not to vaccinate. And in those situations we could say they’re not required but they’re heavily incentivised. We’ve created incentives and rewards for people who protect public health by benefiting from public resources, and those are important things to consider as a way of motivating parents who are uncertain.
My first choice is always that parents think about their role in the community and make the choices for themselves and their own children, but they also think of other families in the community. Many of the children who aren’t receiving vaccines are less likely to have access to them, and that may be because they have medical reasons why they can’t access them, or they live in places further away from health clinics. I know in parts of Europe there have been vaccine shortages and that effects who’s most likely to be vaccinated. And in those situations, the families who can best access care have a role to play in protecting those who are most vulnerable. So, my first choice would always be that we ask people to take care of each other voluntarily. Having said that, when we reach a certain point when a high enough number of parents are choosing not to vaccinate, then it jeopardises everyone in the community. At that point, I think it’s up to individual countries to decide what they can do to try to increase those rates.
Should vaccination be mandatory for all children? Why do some parents refuse to vaccinate their children? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!