THERE was a certain inevitability in Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s suggestion that children who have not had the MMR vaccine could be excluded from school to prevent the spread of disease. It’s not the first authoritarian initiative of this government of little practical gain for those individuals most affected, let alone the vast majority who are expected to shut up and foot the bill.
According to Unicef, only 88 per cent of five-year-olds in the UK have had the required two doses of the MMR vaccine, which it says is well below the 95 per cent take-up needed to eliminate measles, mumps and rubella. Last year there were 966 cases of measles, almost four times as many as in 2017.
There are clear dangers from these childhood diseases, but there are also dangers from vaccinations that parents have to weigh up. Successive governments have not helped by failing to address their legitimate concerns and refusing to offer separate vaccines (although they are available privately). Far from reconsidering this policy, it is more likely that the present government will simply blame social media for such concerns and propose banning anything on the internet that might influence parents against vaccination.
It is clear to anyone with experience of autism that such disorders are on the rise. Governments have shown little curiosity about the subject, although autism is a serious problem, and the causes of sudden-onset autism should be of interest to governments as well as parents.
Teaching unions have described Mr Hancock’s idea as a non-starter, saying it would be unworkable and wrong to punish children for their parents’ decision not to have them immunised. Of course some parents will not bother with vaccination, but to exclude their children from school – thus leaving them at risk of neglect and possible abuse at home – is no answer.
Moreover, there are real risks to parental freedom from this new proposal: one American mother has been jailed for refusing to have her son vaccinated with a product that used the cells from aborted babies; here, young teenagers have been put under pressure to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus despite very real health risks from the vaccine.
It is possible for even the most well-meaning of governments to make mistakes, and given the potential bill for public compensation the implications of backtracking from bad policies are huge; being in government means never having to say you’re sorry, thus state medicine can easily morph into state fascism. But the Big Brother approach to health, when it goes wrong, can lead to yet more health problems – for which, of course, parents can be blamed.