06/11/2015 08:13 EDT | Updated 06/11/2016 05:59 EDT

Should Parents Be Forced to Vaccinate Their Kids?

Miodrag Gajic

On the heels of the news of a little unvaccinated boy in London, Ontario with tetanus, there has been much fuss on the internet about "forced vaccination." On my blog alone, there are over 50 comments from people on both sides of the vaccine issue. Vaccinations, it seems, are a very contentious issue. It is a polarizing issue. Many feel they are dangerous and thrust upon us for the wrong reasons. Others feel that not vaccinating places the public at risk and that is should be mandated.

In February 2015, a poll by the Angus Reid Institute revealed that two-thirds of Canadians believe that children should not be allowed to attend school or daycare if their immunizations are not fully up to date. Interestingly, the country is divided. In Ontario and Alberta, parents strongly support mandatory vaccination (4:1), whereas citizens of Quebec are firmly divided (1:1). Across the country parents of older children are more in favour of mandatory vaccination, and parents of young children more supportive of voluntary vaccination. Does this suggest changing times and a movement towards less complete vaccination across Canada? Why is there more doubt about vaccination safety then there was 20 years ago? Perhaps public health needs some better PR.

According to the survey, 88 per cent of Canadians think vaccination is effective in preventing disease, with the skeptical 12 per cent mostly falling in the younger age categories This kind of skepticism is the same as we see in the United States, where some communities demonstrating only 82% vaccine uptake, 10% less than that required to prevent outbreaks (herd immunity). Measles was able to spread quickly through California this past year as so many children visiting Disneyland were un- or under-vaccinated.

What worries me most is the misinformation out there, particularly by "experts" online. The survey found 28 per cent of parents feel there is a "real risk of serious effects from vaccination." There are side effects, sure, but "serious" side effects? I wonder what these parents were envisioning. Is a fever or mild rash considered a "serious effect"? To some parents, I suspect this would be. Are there potential serious effects like seizures and allergic reaction? There are, but these risks are exceedingly low .

Is there tremendous evidence showing vaccinations prevent awful childhood disease? Yes, there are thousands of studies showing this. But, do health officials have the right to force parents to vaccinate their children? I'm not sure, I feel uneasy about this.

Don't get me wrong; I am pro-vaccine. My children are fully vaccinated, as am I. But I also think parents should have the choice about what medicines and therapies they give their children, with the caveat that they get the right information. Perhaps the answer isn't forcing Canadian families to get vaccinated, but instead having a public health campaign with excellent, well-respected champions from the community that can disseminate vaccination facts and squash myths.

Anti-vaxers are denounced as ignorant, gullible (at the hands of other anti-vaxers, particularly public figures with a soap box) and irresponsible with the life of their family. Are these parents guilty of child abuse, as some commented? Oppositely, are those who are pro-vaccine similarly gullible (at the hands of public health and physicians) and irresponsible with the health and safety of their children? Depends on what side you sit I suppose.

It comes down to personal autonomy and choice versus public consciousness. I think that is your choice to make, though I hope you are guided correctly, with the proper facts, before making this decision. But know that your choice for your family does affect many thousands, if not millions of other families. Many children are unable to be vaccinated and will always be at risk, such as children with immune problems or cancer. Of course these children want a normal life too, to go to school, to the movies and to parties. The choice to avoid vaccinations does put these kids at risk of getting sick or worse.

What I would love to see is a nationwide (or better yet, worldwide) dialogue and a proper, unbiased education session. Let's come together, without hatred and condemnation, and discuss our concerns, fears and "knowledge." Maybe if we could listen a bit more to the other side, we could find an appropriate strategy moving forward. No more hate, let's open our minds for the sake of our kids and health. I for one could champion this.


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