‘We should listen to the science to give kids 21st century protection’
We’re gearing up for vaccination week in Sheffield secondary schools, an annual event on the academic calendar that comes and goes without too much teacher involvement but is facing more and more scrutiny in the wider community.
Take-up rates are dropping, the nation is losing World Health Organisation status we once took for granted and kids in many communities are being put at risk.
Vaccination is a serious issue which begins and ends with decisions taken in the homes of children.
For such an important event for the community, the build up to vaccination week generally has a fair amount of hysteria associated with it – some filtering through to lessons and a lot more raising its head at break times.
If we wanted, teachers could easily play a game of ‘Vaccination Bingo’ and tick off key phrases when we hear them uttered by the Year 9s.
Some of the typical things we overhear are along the lines of:
“It makes a massive scar, my mum still has hers.”
“This is really gonna hurt, even Big Dave in Year 11 cried when he had his.”
“Dan, have you seen the size of the needle? It’s this big!”
Vaccination time has made a bigger impact on me this year because I have a child in Year 9 and last week the official letter came asking for us to give permission for two vaccinations. I filled the form in and sent it off straight away because I want them to have immunity to diphtheria, meningitis and, of course, polio. It’s easy to forget how devastating a disease like polio can be; we take immunity for granted in our developed world bubble but we should remember how much better life is for these modern-day medical miracles. More and more parents are deciding not to immunise their children, though, and it’s not good news.
What started with a now debunked warning about the MMR vaccine and links with autism has spiralled into concerns about the ingredients in the vaccine and a lifestyle belief that kids can develop a natural immunity.
Believing that your kids never get ill and don’t need a vaccine is all very well – until they get measles and have their life put at risk. As many as 25 per cent of primary parents in some areas are now refusing to give authorisation for the MMR vaccine, prompting the government to look at ways to address the issue.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has even suggested making vaccinations mandatory in state schools, though his ideas were not boosted by his bosses. With the WHO removing the UK’s ‘measle free’ status, we see the disease spreading through parts of the south-west and the town of Yeovil has been particularly hit. There are also cases of mumps increasing in Bath.
These are serious illnesses and the news they are on the increase should more than outweigh a personal feeling that somehow vaccinations are not healthy or ethical. We should be looking at vaccinations – in secondary schools and also at our GP – not as something to rebel against but something we should be proud of.
We are very fortunate to be living in an advanced country where this level of protection is so readily available and we’re extremely lucky we can issue these vaccinations free of charge in an organised system at school.
But these things do not work effectively unless the vast majority of people sign up, providing the whole community with ‘herd immunity.’ Around 95 per cent of school children need to sign up – the MMR take-up is hovering around 86 per cent and it’s not good enough. If enough sign up, even those who cannot have the vaccination are protected. Note I used the word ‘cannot’ rather than ‘will not’ have.
There are some children who are not given the vaccination for medical reasons because it may lead to allergic reactions .
For the sake of our own children and those not able to have the vaccination, we should listen to the science and return the form so all Year 9 students in the city can enjoy the 21st century benefits of immunisation.