The first Academy of Ideas Education Forum of 2020 looks at one of the thorniest moral issues facing schools.
Public Health England (PHE) has warned that a quarter of London’s five-year-olds may not be sufficiently immunised against mumps, measles and rubella (MMR). Elsewhere in the country, the figure is one in seven. Uptake has fallen below the level required to prevent the wider spread of outbreaks of the diseases, and the proportion of children receiving other vaccinations has also declined. Meanwhile, Harvard research suggests child victims of measles are at greater risk from other deadly infections such meningitis, septicaemia and pneumonia. The statistics have raised fears that misinformation about vaccines will be the next social problem schools will be expected to tackle.
Twenty years ago, Dr Andrew Wakefield controversially claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and this led to a similar fall in vaccinations. However, the claims were eventually discredited, Wakefield was struck off and uptake recovered.
So what could be behind the latest apparent scepticism about inoculation safety? The chief executive of NHS England has claimed that parents at school gates are spreading harmful myths about the MMR vaccine. Others point to ‘anti-vaxxers’ capitalising on broader populist scepticism towards expert authority.
More importantly, is compulsory vaccination on the horizon?
France, Italy and Germany have all introduced sanctions for parents who don’t have their children vaccinated and the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has refused to rule out compulsory vaccination. Labour MP Barry Sheerman has proposed making proof of MMR jabs a condition of school entry.
Some have argued that compulsory vaccination would punish children for their parents’ behaviour and that it would exclude children whose families object to vaccinations for medical, religious or philosophical reasons. Others argue that anti-vaxx beliefs should be protected under anti-discrimination laws. Can compulsion ever be morally justified?
LISTEN TO THE DISCUSSION
Dr Mike Fitzpatrick
practising GP; author, MMR and Autism: what parents need to know and Defeating Autism: a damaging delusion