OPINION: Vaccine debate is not about the good many and selfish few

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OPINION: Vaccine debate is not about the good many and selfish few

After the Health Secretary said he is 'looking very seriously' at making vaccinations compulsory, Jemma Wayne says people should not allow whipped up fear to cloud the facts

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this week that he is “looking very seriously” at making vaccinations compulsory for all UK school pupils. In the furore of measles ‘outbreaks’, it is a common cry, and in both Israel and the Diaspora, Jewish communities have come under fire for blame. While Facebook, Amazon and the like have begun censoring ‘antivax’ content, religious motivations to decline vaccination have been treated as backward and dangerous, and across all media, anybody wary of immunisation is treated now as a pariah, or a loon. 

But it is all a distraction, because questioning vaccine safety is not even the point. With so much blame, we barely seem to have noticed that compelling parents to inject any foreign substances (safe or otherwise) into their healthy child, is a fundamental challenge not only to religious freedom, but to the most intimate principles of liberty and consent.

Yet it is necessary to at least touch on those issues of safety, because while anybody questioning it is now labelled as a peddler of misinformation (or a religious nutter), we have seen countless cases of medical authorities getting their ‘facts’ wrong.

As just one example, a recent BBC story detailed the terrible dangers of the acne drug Roaccutane, a medicine that has been widely prescribed on the NHS for decades. Was this sole drug prescribed with a unique carelessness? Need we mention Thalidomide? I ask this not to mistrust the good intentions of good doctors, only to illustrate that they are not gods. Sometimes, their information is flawed. And over four billion dollars of US government money distributed in vaccine injury compensation would suggest that this is true even when it comes to vaccines.

Vaccine damage payment exists in the UK too. And the briefest glance at many vaccine inserts will show everything from seizures to SIDS listed as possible side effects. This is not to imply that such outcomes are common, or that vaccines are uniformly dangerous, or without benefit.

In developing countries especially, they have been vital in the fight against deadly disease. It is also important to note that even when a vaccine contains potentially harmful ingredients, while some children will be predisposed to react badly, many will be OK. But we are lead to believe there is no risk, that the science is settled. This is simply not the case.

So should vaccines be mandatory? Both the UK and Israel have seen a rise in measles cases, and the understandable goal of authorities is to increase vaccination rates to achieve ‘herd immunity’. In the name of that, the issue has been effectively framed as a battle between the selfish few, and the good many.

In some places, unvaccinated children have already been excluded from public spaces, as was felt by Chasidic communities in New York. They have been denied access to education, and now their parents are on the cusp of being compelled to act against their beliefs.

Again, compulsion is the point. But we should perhaps point out here another red herring. That is, that a genuine attempt at herd immunity would not stop at children. It would require the (assumedly mandatory) immunisation of all adults too. A detail often forgotten in the infamous case of the Israeli flight attendant who died from measles, is that she had had her childhood vaccinations.

But a new study has suggested that unlike the lifelong immunity gained from wild measles, vaccine acquired immunity decreases so much with age that we would all need frequent boosters for there to be even a chance of lasting protection. So the ‘facts’ about unvaccinated children being the ones to put society at risk, are less fact and more faith.

It may be beneficial to pause for just a moment to ask when else we have targeted people on such a basis of faith? When else we have excluded them, or censored their ideas, or forced them to submit their bodies.

Never again, and all that.

Yet we are told that now, this time, it is necessary  to protect the herd from the dangerous few. So long as we identify ourselves within ‘the herd’, there is an instinctual appeal to this. Because what we are really saying is that we don’t care if some children are left with allergies, or arthritis, or brain damage, or dead, so long as most children, our children, are protected. The many are simply more important than the few. This is what Matt Hancock means, one supposes, when he speaks of ‘responsibility’.

Unpicked in this way, it is an uncomfortable line of argument, but it is philosophically defensible.

Of course, even back in 1962, the year before the first UK measles vaccine was introduced, only 0.00007% of the population died from measles. You were, and are, far more likely to be killed by alcohol, or, if you live in the US, by a kid with a gun. But alcohol remains legal, and we all know about US gun control. We have not, in any of these cases, placed the good of the whole above the freedom of the individual.

So that clever philosophical argument about the self versus society, turns out, after all, not to hold up.

Why then, are we so willing to throw away not only our religious freedoms, but our personal right to choose?

Some might argue that by demanding the right to decline vaccination, we are removing the equal right of others to be protected from disease. To those who are happy to vaccinate, we must ask  don’t your own vaccinations protect you? To those immuno-compromised or too young who wish to, but cannot, vaccinate, we must ask  are your children’s lives more important than those predisposed to lethal vaccine reaction? Even if, somehow, the answer is yes, this is not like asking somebody not to smoke near you.

What we are asking is for healthy individuals to alter the natural state of their human body in an irreversible and potentially harmful way. Do we really want that to be mandatory?

Needless to say, there are mountains of scientific evidence that question not only vaccine safety, but also the very concept of vaccine acquired herd immunity, and even suggest that those carrying a live, shedding virus, via vaccination, can themselves be a danger.

Regarding measles, questions have also been posed about how the vaccine itself has shifted the goalposts. Pre-vaccine, we had achieved an almost symbiotic relationship with the disease whereby those under one were largely protected by their mother’s naturally acquired immunity, and most people caught the disease in childhood, the safest time. While there was a high incidence of measles, there was an increasingly low incidence of mortality. It is only now that we have eroded natural immunity, and through the vaccine shifted it out of childhood, that we are seeing it again in babies and adults, when it is far more dangerous.

There needs to be some frank discussion about this, about all vaccine science, because more transparency and safer vaccines would be far the best way to increase uptake. There needs too to be a removal of the astounding US liability exemption afforded to vaccine manufacturers.

And some scrutiny of political funding. But see, we are distracted again, because for now, this is not even the point. The point is choice. Religious and personal. The point is ownership of the most fundamental thing that any of us possess – our bodies.

So let us not allow whipped up fear to cloud this. Let us not stay silent as that bandwagon rolls by. Because we all know what it is, and we all know how it ends.

First they came for the socialists…



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