Vaccine choices

Most vaccinations occur during childhood so the decision whether or not to vaccinate falls to the parents. This is often a difficult decision. Many people understand that vaccinations prevent children from catching diseases like measles, mumps and rubella which can be fatal. However, a vaccination is a dead or altered form of the disease. So, there is a very small chance of the vaccinated child reacting to the vaccination. In almost all circumstances this is rela,tively safe giving only mild symptoms of fever and swelling at injection sites, but rarely severe allergic reactions can occur.

It is important that science helps parents in making this decision. The role of the media is also very important here. In 1998, a controversial research paper was published by Dr Andrew Wakefield. It made a link between the giving of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with developing autism. It has since been completely discredited by the scientific community. However, some parents are still concerned about vaccinations in general and the MMR vaccine in particular.

Parents have to consider a number of things when deciding whether or not to vaccinate:

  • There is a risk of severe allergic reaction associated with any injection, however it is very small ( \frac{1}{10 000 000}) - the risk of contracting a serious disease is far greater.
  • Immunising increases herd immunity - the situation where those who are unable to be vaccinated (vulnerable young babies and those allergic to vaccines) are protected as outbreaks of disease are prevented because others are vaccinated. Because others are immune to the disease, it is less likely to be spread.
  • Most parents learn about new scientific breakthroughs through the media. High profile cases like the MMR vaccine link to autism in 1998 can have a huge influence on people’s opinion.

Scientific evidence states that vaccinations are positive for many children. However, science can only provide a statistically based 'balance of probability' not a definitive answer.