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Considering the case for compulsory vaccinations

Source: Nicole Honeywill via Unsplash

by Oli King

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has stated that he is seriously considering mandatory vaccinations for kids, something which at first consideration I firmly disagreed with. 

I thought it would be a violation of an individual’s bodily autonomy by the state. Hancock’s announcement comes at a time when vaccination rates are falling, with concerns clearly being sparked about the effectiveness of herd immunity, as an increasing number of the herd are becoming vulnerable. Rates have fallen yearly since 2013, but the drop is only actually 1.6% in that time, with 93.1% of children in England still being vaccinated before their first birthday. It seems rather a load of hot air for what amounts to about a 0.3% drop a year; that is surely a small enough number that the government could reverse it with increased education and guidance from doctors? Mandatory vaccinations should not be needed so long as the government is competent enough to reverse the trend.

I won’t discuss the link to autism, the scientific consensus is clear and I’m no vaccinologist, but there are other reasons some choose not to vaccinate. There are non-controversial risks; in the US one botched vaccine gave 40,000 people polio, and there are possible side effects too. For this reason I don’t want to be entirely dismissive of anti-vaxxing, and when in small numbers they can stay quite safe free riding off of others immunity, and aren’t opening themselves and others up to big risk.

But what if vaccination rates do keep falling? Thinking now, I would vaccinate my future child, likely without hesitation, but as I’ve never been in the situation to make the choice, I decided to ask someone who had. Firing off a quick text to my mum, her reply struck me. Hers had been a trivial decision, howbeit one that as I considered things, could have had potentially massive ramifications. I realised the debate of bodily autonomy is a bit of a misnomer, because really it is parents enacting their judgement. Had I and many others not been vaccinated, what would I have thought if I had caught an easily preventable disease? What would I have thought of my mother for the decision she had made for me? It wasn’t my decision at all to be vaccinated even though it was my body on the line. I trust my mother made the right decision, but that isn’t a luxury that can be extended to all for sure, so perhaps it could be better to trust the state if the risks incurred by not being vaccinated rises. I know I would rather be mad at Boris and those in parliament than my parents should they make the wrong decision.

Whether it can be considered a debate of bodily autonomy or not, there is little harm in allowing a few individuals to make the choice not to immunise. But, if those choosing not to becomes too large a number, and herd immunity begins to stutter and fail, then it is time for the government to step up in the name of children’s health. I just hope that the government is competent enough to reverse the decline without forcing vaccinations and kicking up a storm with those who don’t want their children vaccinated.

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