Jabs through the backdoor

Parents should be won around to MMR by medical argument, not legal injunction.

Josie Appleton

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Topics Politics

The Court of Appeal has ordered two mothers to give their children the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The fathers of the two girls, who lived apart from their children but retained parental responsibility, had taken the case to the High Court, which ruled last month that the children should have the jabs (1).

The mothers argued that the controversial MMR jab was unnecessary and dangerous, and were supported by evidence from a GP and homeopath; the fathers were supported by two leading medical experts. In his summing up, Lord Justice Sedley said that the evidence was overwhelmingly on the side of the fathers, and that the anti-MMR evidence amounted to ‘junk science’.

Lord Justice Sedley may have been right about the science, but he shouldn’t have been the one to say it. Parents, not the courts, should decide what is in the best interests of their child. If parents disagree, as they did in this case, they need to argue it out between themselves.

When the law starts forcing parents to vaccinate their children, it is getting on to very dangerous territory indeed. Will armed police turn up at their door to whisk the child away to the doctors? As Isabella Thomas, a spokesperson for Jabs, a support group for parents who believe their children were damaged by vaccines, argued: ‘This is not a nanny state but the big brother bully state. This could set a precedent for the future.’

In the MMR debate, the strong arm of the law is standing in for the flabby arm of the medical establishment. In public debates about the safety of the MMR jab, both doctors and the government have been defensive and hesitant in defending the safety of the jab. Prime minister Tony Blair even refused to say whether his son had had the MMR jab. They were slow off the mark in rebutting anti-MMR stories – and later tried to launch alternative scares about the single mumps vaccine (see Mumps vaccine: swollen concerns, by Dr Michael Fitzpatrick).

This vacillation gave space for irrational fears about the MMR jab to blossom. If the prime minister wouldn’t admit to giving it to his son, perhaps there was something to be worried about? If doctors mumble about the need to ‘recognise public fear’ then perhaps this fear is justified? The anti-MMR side of the debate receives constant coverage in the press, no doubt affecting the views of parents like these two mothers.

Unable to win their case in the court of public opinion, medical authorities may take comfort from their victory in the court of appeal. Certainly, convincing ageing judges may be easier than convincing millions of parents – not least because the child in question is not their own.

But this would be a terrible route to go down. A national vaccination strategy can only be run on consent, not coercion. Cases such as this only fuel parental suspicion that they are at the mercy of dark forces with the medical and political establishment. Those who believe in the safety of the MMR jab have to fight the hard battle for the hearts and minds of parents.

Read on:

spiked-issue: MMR vaccine

(1) Mothers lose anti-MMR battle, Guardian, 31 July 2003

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