Comment

With childhood immunisation rates falling, it’s time to ramp up the scare tactics

Reluctant parents should be spared no gruesome detail about the reality of diseases like diphtheria and polio

Reluctant parents should be spared no gruesome detail about the reality of diseases like diphtheria and polio


Picture: iStock

When I was four years old, I used up my life’s quota of courage in one fell swoop.

Children submitted to their elders without question in those authoritarian days – we weren’t offered bribes or given any explanations, we just did as we were told and that was an end to it.

But on my way to the doctor’s for my routine pre-school jabs, I dug my heels in and refused to go. To this day I hate needles when they are pointed in my direction.

My mother’s graphic account of what happened to children with tetanus propelled four-year-old me to the surgery

Instead of giving me a clip round the ear and dragging me to the surgery kicking and screaming, as some parents might have done, my mother’s response to my rebellion was much more effective; she told me what had happened to children she knew who had contracted diphtheria.  

She described children with polio in iron lungs and calipers, and her take on tetanus was so graphic it’s a wonder I can sleep at night, even now. No detail was spared, and by the time she’d finished I was virtually battering down the doctor’s door, begging for a double dose of any vaccine they had in stock. 

The uptake of childhood immunisations has dropped in recent years, and a solution must be found to reverse this trend. But why, when it’s free and recommended by all the experts, has this downswing happened?

‘A child in our street had polio and the fear in the neighbourhood was palpable. Do we really want to go back to those days?’

Yes, there are the scaremongers who cause mischief on social media, and those who cannot bear to put their children through the pain. But I believe the main reason is apathy; our health system is so good that the public expect there to be a cure for pretty much everything. 

Today’s parents should not view exposure to these diseases as a remote risk for their children

Generations younger than mine have no experience of many serious illnesses. Diphtheria, for example, must seem as remote to my children’s peers as bubonic plague – yet it has now reappeared in the UK. Other dangerous diseases also still exist in other parts of the world, and it is naive to assume those of us in the UK are unlikely to come into contact with them sooner or later. Failing to immunise our children is akin to doing away with the police force because the crime statistics have dropped. It's totally bonkers.

Our parents and grandparents would be shocked by this complacency. I can vaguely remember the excitement when the polio vaccine first came out in the 1950s, and how I was compelled (objecting, no doubt) to be inoculated.

A child in our street had polio and the fear in the neighbourhood was palpable. Do we really want to go back to those days, when you were afraid to let your children out to play? When every cough sent a shiver of dread down the spine? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

To encourage parents to vaccinate their children, the Department of Health and Social Care should take the same approach as my mother did with me. Educate them – not with statistics but with real life examples. Scare the socks off them if necessary and spare no detail, because these diseases mankind seeks to eradicate are grave.

If survived, they can leave a legacy of life-long devastation. No one would wish that on their children.


Jane Bates is a retired nurse

 

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