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Mandatory vaccines? Medical ethicist Jeremy Snyder said discussion needed

02/18/2015 12:15 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT
A recent measles outbreak at Disneyland — and one last spring in the Fraser Valley — should prompt discussion over whether vaccines should be mandatory, according to a medical ethicist.

"It should be part of the conversation," Jeremy Snyder, an ethicist and health sciences professor at Simon Fraser University, told On The Island's Gregor Craigie.

"We may not be quite to a point where we want to be making this compulsory but the reality is the best way to increase vaccination rates is to make it compulsory."

Snyder said the right to personal choice has to be weighed against the health of the greater public, and said a dropping vaccination rate puts children with compromised immune systems, or who are too young to be vaccinated, at risk of disease.

"Ethically, I think it's very defensible to make this compulsory."

Snyder said the ideal is a voluntary system where everyone has good access to vaccinations, and to good information about the science behind vaccines.

"The problem that we're facing right now is there's really good science out there that these vaccines are safe but we haven't done as good of work of figuring out how to convey that information to people," he said.

"There's actually research in the last year or so saying that when we use our current methods to take people who are skeptical about vaccines and explain to them the best evidence about it, it actually increases people's resistance to vaccines."

Vaccines are currently not mandatory in B.C., but Health Minister Terry Lake said it has been considered.

“I have had this discussion with Dr. Perry Kendall, and will continue to do so. When you look at those jurisdictions that have mandatory vaccination legislation, in fact built into those legislative requirements are exemptions, which could be for religious purposes, or strictly personal reasons. So you don’t really capture that many more people – those who choose not to vaccinate are still able to opt out," he said in a written statement.

"I want to make sure we are doing all we can to increase vaccination rates. If there was evidence that legislation would increase those rates, I would certainly look at it. It is a very big step to force people to take a medical treatment.”

To hear the full interview with Jeremy Snyder, click the audio labelled: Should vaccines be mandatory?

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