Media reports this week have warned of a spike in cases of measles among the country’s children, attributed by health officials to a slump in rates of MMR vaccination to its lowest level in more than a decade.
The fall in post-pandemic childhood vaccination rates is not in doubt, with uptake falling below 75% in some cities and as low as 50% in some London boroughs. Encouraged by ministers and health officials, however, media reports have so far majored on anti-vaccine beliefs, fuelled by concerted scaremongering, as the cause of parental hesitation. The official line seems to be that public health policy and vaccines themselves are beyond criticism, so hesitancy must be down to the misguided fears of parents.
Indeed, in a scathing opinion piece published in the Daily Mail in November last year, the veteran broadcaster John Humphrys appeared to suggest that parents who hesitate to vaccinate their children against measles, or who might question the safety or necessity of a vaccine, reveal their “woeful ignorance, blind prejudice and simple stupidity”.
Slinging insults at parents with legitimate concerns for the wellbeing of their children may not be a sensible strategy for any politician in an election year, but ministers and their shadows have nevertheless been similarly circumspect and diversionary in response to the expanding body of public, political and expert opinion calling for full transparency of the official data around Covid mRNA vaccine harms.
In a January 16th Westminster Hall debate on the U.K.’s excess deaths crisis, the junior Health Minister Maria Caulfield cautioned MPs that any discussion of mRNA vaccine harms should not be allowed to undermine the public’s trust in vaccination policy: “We must be careful with the language we use. … We should absolutely scrutinise the safety of vaccines, but we need to make sure that we are not deterring parents from coming forward,” she said. Abena Oppong-Asare MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Mental Health had earlier in that debate recorded the Official Opposition’s prejudged view that suggestions of a link between excess deaths and Covid mRNA vaccines “stokes fear and misinformation”.
Neither spokesperson seemed willing to contemplate the possibilities that it may be the U.K.’s vaccination policies which have undermined trust, or that parents should be allowed to make up their own minds on safety after seeing the official data on mRNA Covid vaccine dosage dates and deaths (data which reportedly have already been shared with the vaccine manufacturers but are otherwise being withheld even from vaccine experts).
For those already heavily invested in the official line that Covid mRNA vaccines have always been extremely safe and effective, it may be comforting to believe that a key driver of the apparent erosion of parental trust in public health, and particularly childhood immunisations, is a small handful of “moronic anti-vaxxers” (to borrow again from John Humphrys) somehow having successfully caused baseless theories to gain widespread traction among formerly rational parents. But this is flatly contradicted by exclusive polling carried out for UsForThem.