A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at Boston Children's Hospital Feb. 26, 2015. CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters

Editorial: A duty to vaccinate

  • April 11, 2019

Vaccinating young children against a wide range of diseases is a medical and moral imperative, and a smart practice parents should embrace.

Yet a recent Toronto Star investigation found that more than 25 per cent of seven-year olds attending schools in the city and surrounding area are not fully immunized. The national situation is somewhat better, yet estimates suggest a non-vaccination rate of more than 10 per cent.

The figures are alarming not just because vaccination neglect leaves thousands of children susceptible to potentially fatal illnesses, but also because carriers pose a threat to spread highly contagious diseases to other children, pregnant women and vulnerable adults.

A measles outbreak last year in Europe infected tens of thousands of people and left 72 dead. The shame is that measles could be virtually eliminated by vaccinating at least 95 per cent of the population. Without vaccination, studies suggest a single measles carrier in a populated area will probably infect more than a dozen people during the virus’ three-week incubation period.

It is unclear why so many parents fail to immunize their children from not only measles but from such dangerous viruses as rubella, mumps, polio and chickenpox. In some cases, doctors believe the problem is misinformation on the Internet about side effects — one totally debunked theory suggested a link between vaccines and autism. Other side effects, including soreness, fatigue, vomiting and fever, sometimes do occur, but are relatively short-lived and minor compared to the consequences if a child contracts a disease like rubella.

In Catholic and other pro-life circles, legitimate concern has been expressed about many commonplace children’s vaccines because of their 1960s origin, when vaccines were formulated using cells taken from two aborted fetuses. There is a 50-year unbroken lineage connecting those original cells with several of today’s vaccines, and for many people that lineage makes inoculation irreconcilable with Catholic pro-life teaching.

Yet despite this distasteful history, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life encourages parents to vaccinate their children, and states they can do so with a clear conscience. The academy says the use of fetal tissue to create the original vaccines was morally wrong, but that irreversible event does not make it morally right a half century later to place children and wider society at serious risk by withholding inoculations.

Parents are duty-bound to safeguard the health of their children and public health in general. In the end, that consideration outweighs justifiable moral anxiety about the grim historical roots of many modern vaccines. In concert with this, however, comes an obligation to encourage governments and pharmaceutical companies to switch to vaccines based on cells or tissue from animals, a practice already begun in some countries.

Meantime, no lives should be put at risk by failing to vaccinate a child.

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