The Welsh measles outbreak is a sorry tale.
This is the latest news is :
· The number of cases in the outbreak has now reached 1,136 since November 2012, up 10 cases in the last few days. There were only 19 measles cases in Wales in the whole of 2011. Despite 60,000 non-routine MMRs administered, tens of thousands of Welsh children remain unprotected.
The speed at which this outbreak took hold is sobering but not unexpected. Measles is called a "childhood disease" because before vaccination nearly everyone caught it and did so sooner in life, rather than later, because it is so infectious. In Queensland, Australia there is currently a threatened outbreak and health officials, who have been watching the Welsh outbreak with concern, are trying hard to nip it in the bud.
It is a source of shame that this Welsh outbreak has happened. Shame on Andrew Wakefield who submitted his now-discredited paper to the Lancet. Shame, for certain, on the many journalists who jumped on the "MMR causes autism" bandwagon. Shame on the doctors who, even now, are making money by offering the single measles shot. Shame on those who continue to spread the anti-vaccination message.
Should we also say shame on those parents whose anxieties were raised by the "scare" and who are now, rather belatedly, queuing to have their children vaccinated?
Even without the alarm bells of a scare story ringing in the background it is not a pleasant activity taking your baby to the clinic for its vaccinations. Someone will stick a needle in that tender little arm and your baby will probably scream in pain. It is easy to feel as if you are harming them in some way. You are, after all, exposing them to something that is closely related to an infectious substance. And we can never say that a vaccination, or any other medical procedure, is completely without risk.
Parents in the Western world are now unfamiliar with the risks and unpleasantness of "childhood diseases". So it is understandable that some of them have erred on the side of non-vaccination. One might guess though, that an African mother who has seen toddlers dying of measles might have a very different view.
Since Jenner first started promoting the smallpox vaccination there have been those who campaigned against vaccination. The arguments they put forward are weak, illogical and superficial, but nevertheless persuasive. Meanwhile public health authorities in the UK have been content to let things ride despite signs that measles and whooping cough were becoming more common. The UK has got away with this for a long time but maybe it is time for a re-think.
Some countries require children to be vaccinated before taking up a publicly-funded school place. Maybe we should be considering something similar. It would not be unreasonable, I think, to require nurseries or primary schools to ask for a vaccination record when registering new pupils, as they do in most US states. There would be a libertarian outcry but it would soon die down. Vaccination should be viewed as one of the necessary infringements of personal liberty that come with the benefits of living in an organised society. It protects all children - in particular those with inadequate or compromised immune systems who are not able to benefit.
We do not complain about the need to adhere to driving laws, such as keeping to the left or putting children in car seats and vaccination should be viewed in the same light.