The number of people in England who are shunning the MMR Vaccine is rising, amid concern that opting not to give your child, the injection will endanger other more vulnerable children.

Last year there was a significant outbreak of measles in South Devon and another in Bristol, both of which have seen a lower uptake of the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in recent years.

Measles can be dangerous and deadly. In the 1960s before the condition was vaccinated against, there were 500,000 cases in the UK, and 115 of them were fatal. In 1990 there were more than 870,000 deaths worldwide from measles. Before immunisation became common, there were 2.1 million deaths globally from measles.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that 95% of the population must be immunised against these three diseases to reach the so-called ‘herd immunity’ when it is no longer possible for the disease to spread. This was looking like a realistic target, and yet even in the UK, this 95% threshold is not being met. The national average in the UK is 90%, but in some areas like Totnes in South Devon, it is significantly less than that, at just 75%.

One reason for this lack of uptake of the vaccine was because a report in the 1990s that was published in the medical journal the Lancet by a doctor called Andrew Wakefield that claimed that the MMR vaccine caused autism. This report has now been completely discredited by medical professionals and the General Medical Council found in 2010 that Wakefield had “dishonest, irresponsible and showed a callous disregard for the distress and pain” of children.

While the uptake of the vaccine in the UK has picked up since 2010, it is still under the 95% necessary and in some areas of the country like Totnes is much lower. 

Why is Totnes so Much Lower?

Seth Berkley, leader of Gavi, a group that campaigns for worldwide vaccination, told the Times in 2017 that affluent areas where people prefer an organic lifestyle were seeing some of the lowest vaccination rates.

“It’s the whole food mums. You’re trying to be organic; you’re trying to do the right thing for your kids and all of a sudden, you’re like, “well do I need to inject these things?”” he said.

 But parents in Totnes who have declined the vaccine insist they are doing so for the right reasons.

“It’s just not natural to pump that sort of stuff into children when they are developing. When we go to the natural doctor, he says he can tell she hasn’t been vaccinated. Her immune system hasn’t been compromised. This isn’t hippy stuff, it’s the truth,” Lotus Tarn told the Guardian.

Another mother who did not give her name said that not getting her children vaccinated was an educated choice and she and her partner had spent months reading medical articles and speaking to the parents of children who had been damaged by vaccination.

However, Dr. Julie Yates from Public Health England, the leading consultant for immunisation for south-west England, said that parents should not be forced to get their children vaccinated.

“There are a significant number of people who have alternative lifestyles and alternative views on healthcare. That’s reasonable. We offer what we’ve got and keep the door open. We tell them it’s never too late and if you change your mind you can come back. Keeping pestering them with invites and reminders doesn’t help,” she told the Guardian.

Yates is clear that she believes that affluent people in the UK have forgotten that 100 years ago many children died in childhood because of diseases that are now preventable.

“The tragedy of losing a child is a now very rare occurrence. That difference has a great deal to do with developments in healthcare, including our world-class immunisation programmes,” said Yates.

Prominent Celebrities Against Vaccinations

Despite the scientific evidence for maintaining herd immunity against diseases like measles so that vulnerable members of society do not become sick with preventable diseases, several celebrities in the US have publicly come out against vaccines or have made unproven and dangerous comments about vaccines in general.

These include Jessica Biel, who does not adhere to a regular vaccine programme for her child and said that she had tried to find a doctor who would help her delay getting her child vaccinated.

While Jenny McCarthy is an even stronger anti-vaxxer and attributes the fact that her son is autistic to the MMR vaccine.

Meanwhile, Jim Carey called California Governor Jerry Brown a “fascist” for singing a law mandating vaccines for all school-aged children in 2015. 

Edward Cowley