The Politics Of Compulsion
The World Health Organization’s warning of a 300% increase in measles raises the question, should the state force you to vaccinate your child?
Protecting your child is surely one of the most powerful and primal of instincts. So how would you feel if you were forced to give them a drug that you believed might damage them for life? That’s the dilemma already facing parents throughout America and Europe and that could soon be coming to Britain. While millions may be uncertain about the effectiveness or safety of vaccines, many others are convinced they are actively harmful. However, as the pressure for mandatory vaccination gains global impetus, opposition to it is coming from both ends of the political spectrum.
By last summer every state in America required vaccinations for at least diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles and rubella before a child was allowed to attend school. Many states had accepted exemptions on medical, religious or personal grounds. But that window of choice is closing. Just recently California and Vermont brought to 30 the number now refusing personal belief exemptions. And yet the US government knows that vaccine side effects can cause severe damage to children. So far the Federal authorities have paid out more than $4 billion in compensation with the number of claimants topping 20,000. Statistically that may be a small proportion of the immunised population, but in terms of individual children severely damaged, it’s an awful lot.
UK Compulsory Vaccination Act
Ironically Britain was one of the first countries in the world to require vaccinations among its population. The Compulsory Vaccination Act of 1853 required all infants in England and Wales to receive the smallpox vaccine. Resistance began immediately with riots in towns including Ipswich, Henley and Mitford. An Anti–Compulsory Vaccination League was formed and its president, William Hume-Rother, declared: “It is the bounden duty of parliament to protect all the rights of man. By the vaccination acts, which trample upon the right of parents to protect their children from disease, parliament has reversed its function.” Compulsion was eventually ended in 1898 when parliament provided a conscience clause to allow exemptions – giving rise to the term ‘conscientious objector.’
Earlier this month Britain’s Health Secretary Mathew Hancock accused anti-jab campaigners of having “blood on their hands” and said he would “rule nothing out” when it came to compulsory vaccination although he would be reluctant to reach that point. More extraordinary was his statement that “those people who campaign against vaccination are campaigning against science. The science is settled.”
Opponents, often derogatorily dubbed ‘anti-vaxxers’, argue the science is very far from settled. The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) argues that scientifically: “vaccines are neither 100 percent effective, nor 100 percent safe.” Referring specifically to the measles vaccine they say: “extremely high vaccination rates do not prevent all measles outbreaks and may even worsen overall harm from measles”. In any case, they point out, the last death from measles in the US was in 2015, so it’s hardly a pressing public health issue. They conclude that “forced vaccination is unnecessary and violates human rights”.
Supreme Violation of Liberty
The AAPS is a right wing ‘libertarian’ organisation, but their stance mirrors others across the political spectrum who believe the issue to be one of fundamental civil liberties. “We all have the human right to freedom of informed medical consent,” says Anna Watson of the European Forum for Vaccine Vigilance, “however this right is violated in 40% of EU countries which impose mandatory vaccination under threat of fines or imprisonment.” Academics like Robert Murphy put it even more starkly: “Mandatory vaccinations involve a supreme violation of liberty, where agents of the state inject substances into someone’s body against his or her will.”
The whole concept of forcing a treatment on a patient would appear to contravene the General Medical Council’s Ethical Guidance to doctors: “You must respect a patient’s decision to refuse an investigation or treatment, even if you think their decision is wrong or irrational … if a child lacks the capacity to consent, you should ask for their parent’s consent.”
Government Pressure on Social Media
It’s notable that by far the majority of news reports and online comments in Britain promote vaccination and rubbish the stance of opponents. That’s likely to continue as the government puts pressure on social media sites not to carry anti-vaxxer views. Meanwhile all official guidelines cajole parents to vaccinate. By the time a UK child is just three they will normally have had 16 separate vaccinations, ostensibly to protect them against 19 different conditions. At least six of those vaccinations will have been multiple shots, including the still-controversial MMR vaccine. And the British government (even if not the Health Secretary) does know the potential risks. A freedom of Information request recently established that the UK Vaccine Damage Unit has paid out more than £74 million to nearly 960 people whose severe disability was caused by vaccination. But this itself masks the reality, as applications for compensation can’t be made for a child under two – the very age group that receives most of the vaccines.
A key question in the debate remains unanswered. Are vaccines actually necessary to protect against diseases – such as measles – that are very rarely fatal? The campaign group Arnica conclude that “when we compare a vaccine’s possible adverse reactions and possible longer-term health problems, against complications from childhood disease in healthy children, we feel that in most cases the non-vaccinated child is healthier.” And above all they say, “we are concerned that no studies have been done to compare the health of these groups.” If ignorance is bliss, it seems the authorities are happy to keep us in that state.
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