'Distressing' to see vaccinations 'undermined and underused', says leading medic

'Distressing' to see vaccinations 'undermined and underused', says leading medic

The growing anti-vaccination movement for measles is a serious threat to public health, a leading medic is warning.

In Europe, the number of cases last year was treble that in 2017. Between March 2018 and February 2019 there were 11,967 cases of measles across the EU.

In Ireland, there were 75 cases of measles over the same period compared with 25 cases the previous year.

In some countries, such as Italy, it is perceived as a protest vote against State institutions.

Dr John FA Murphy and editor of the Irish Medical Journal points out that the ways to increase vaccination rates are education, incentives, and legislation.

“At the Euro-paediatrics symposium in Dublin last weekend mandatory vaccination (was discussed). Many pros and cons were voiced," said Dr Murphy.

"The deeper and more worrying issue is why such a debate is now considered necessary.

It is difficult to grasp why a proportion of a knowledgeable and well-educated group of parents would choose not to vaccinate their children.

"Scientific progress in vaccination has been hard won. Governments provide it free of costs to parents.

"It is the greatest or one of the greatest advances in children’s healthcare over the last century.

“In Ireland in 1950, in the pre-measles vaccination era there were 15,000 cases in a single year.

"It is distressing to see these advances in disease prevention being undermined and underused.”

“On the pro-compulsory argument for vaccination, it was argued that the extension of mandatory vaccination has had a positive impact on mothers' opinions and infant vaccination rates in France.

“On the anti-compulsory side it was argued that in many cases it was not an anti-vaccination per se, but rather a failure to commence or complete courses of vaccines. (Other explanations highlighted) include families having transport problems, the health centre being some distance away.

"There are difficulties when the baby is being minded and the mother is out working.

“The youngest child in a family is less likely to be vaccinated.

File photo
File photo

"Due to communication problems, children from minority and ethnic groups are less likely to be vaccinated.

"If a family is not registered with a GP, vaccination may not take place. Vulnerable children such as the homeless frequently miss out.

"Children with disabilities may not get their vaccinations because of other pressing hospital appointments.

“The debate provided a valuable insight into the non-vaccination problem.”

The re-emergence of measles in the US is an example of public health going backward, added Dr Murphy.

He pointed out that in the year 2000 there were no cases of measles.

Unfortunately, there has been a resurgence with 555 cases across 20 states already this year.

Measles is highly contagious and each affected individual can infect at least nine others.

“A suitable alternative is to confront vaccination misinformation. As soon as false information is posted on social media, it should be immediately refuted.

"If this does not happen the doubts that have been placed in parents’ minds linger on.

“Parents should be repeatedly reminded of the morbidity and potential mortality from infectious diseases. Measles is causing 10,000 deaths annually across the world.

"Education is a major vehicle in promoting vaccination and it must be sufficiently robust to counter-balance the anti-vaccination stance.

“The false link between the Measles vaccine and autism continues to be promoted despite many scientific studies debunking the association.

Other common, incorrect assertions are that vaccines are unsafe and harmful and that there is collusion between government and the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr Murphy explained that at both a national and international levels, vaccination campaigns need to occur at regular and planned intervals.

“Much can be learned from the anti-smoking measures which have been very successful despite strong, well-resourced commercial opposition.

"Professionals should bring up the issue of vaccination at all clinical interactions such as GP visits, Emergency Department attendances, hospital Out-Patients Departments, and in-patient admissions.

“All health services need to actively support and protect their vaccination programs.

"Promoting the delivery of a high-quality vaccination service is an investment in our children’s health both now and into the future.”

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